Americans are a wary bunch these days – and not without reason.  Recent revelations about domestic spying would seem to vindicate “X-Files-like” paranoia.  Recent polls have documented just how shaken our confidence in many major institutions of American society has been.  The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll co-conducted by POS partner Bill McInturff demonstrates that voter faith is at or near decade lows:

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That lack of trust has implications.  Each generation’s ability to trust in our institutions is one of the fundamental predictors of how well America has resolved past crises in William Strauss and Neil Howe’s analysis of U.S. history, Generations.

It also means that on many of the public policy issues we test, voters founder when faced with competing viewpoints.  They simply do not know which way to turn.  And when asked who they might trust for additional information, they often cannot come up with a single organization, institution, or individual.  I’ve seen that firsthand in focus groups over the last few weeks with voters.  Three different policy issues; three different states; same reaction.

Our collective lack of confidence also leads to some rather humorous incongruities.  A poll of 1,009 Americans sponsored by Reader’s Digest asked respondents to rate over 200 “American opinion shapers and headline makers” representing a range of professions on a scale of 1 not trustworthy to 5 extremely trustworthy.  Respondents were asked to consider a range of factors in evaluating trustworthiness – from that individual’s integrity and character, leadership, internal moral compass, to talent and drive for personal excellence.  A descriptive phrase may have helped respondents overcome lack of awareness of some individuals tested.   While the poll methodology appears to be completely absent from their web site, the results are at least humorous if not concerning.  Just a few tidbits:

  • Americans are more likely to find Judge Judy trustworthy (ranked #28 of all tested) than any Supreme Court Justice (Ruth Bader Ginsburg tested highest at #36).
  • Similarly, Dr. Oz (#16) edges out U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin (#22).
  • Out of sight may be out of trust as well – Robin Roberts is the most trusted woman on television, rated far higher than Oprah.
  • Politicians generally rated very low.  Michelle Obama was far more trusted (#19) than her husband.  Former President Jimmy Carter barely made it into the top tier (#24).
  • Actors tended to rise to the top – the most trusted man? Tom Hanks. The most trusted woman? Sandra Bullock.  But my faith in the public was restored somewhat knowing that very few trusted Kim Kardashian.
  • Finally, I’d be remiss as a Coloradan not to mention that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning instilled more confidence than any other current athlete (#27), besting both his brother and Tim Tebow.  Let’s hope Denver fans can make the same judgment after this year’s NFL season.

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Public Opinion Strategies