I don’t normally trust surveys sponsored by big foundations with an activist social agenda. But the Pew Research Center for People and the Press got it just about right with a recent poll.
The researchers asked a random sampling of Americans which groups and institutions they most trusted. The results received scant attention in the establishment press — not surprising given how few people trust it as an institution.
Only 22 percent said they have a lot of trust in their local daily newspaper. No wonder circulations are sagging and competitive markets are so few and far between. How could a local paper, not trusted by its readership, ever survive if readers had a choice? And even that low figure is suspect because respondents weren’t screened to determine whether they even read a local newspaper. Given the fact that about half of Americans aren’t reading a conventional daily paper anymore, it’s reasonable to assume that some of that 22 percent is not actually even reading one.
Only a slightly larger group, 24 percent, trust local television news. I suspect one reason more people trust local television news than local newspapers or even network TV news is because it deals so little with the major issues of the day. Local television concentrates on fires, accidents, local human interest stories, the weather, sports and anything else that is visually compelling. It tends not to be controversial. It tends not to have as strong a political and social bias as the big boys, though that is not always true in the major markets. But still, this is a pretty dismal approval rating.
To give you a reference point, a third of this same polling group say they trust their public schools. I would have thought that rating would be higher because (a) most parents don’t know what’s going on in their children’s schools; (b) even more non-parents don’t know what’s going in the schools; (c) some rural and suburban local school districts have not yet descended into the kind of moral insanity, social experimentation and mind control into which larger urban districts have plummeted; and (d) so many have bought into the lie that the only real problem with public education in this country is that we’re not spending enough money on it. Nevertheless, despite all those factors, two-thirds of the population is skeptical — perhaps even cynical — about their local public schools. No wonder the teachers’ unions have lobbied so hard against giving parents a choice about which schools their kids can attend.
About 46 percent say they trust the neighborhood in which they live. That sounds about right. If half the people in this country live in a nice neighborhood, it makes sense that the other half wouldn’t trust the not-so-nice neighborhood they live in. About the same number trust their local police department. A slightly higher amount, 51 percent, actually trust their boss. That’s nice, given how much more contact people have with their supervisors at work than they do with their police department — at least most people.
A much bigger group, 78 percent, trust their local fire department. Given the fact that, in many communities in America, the fire department is made up of volunteers, I guess that’s understandable.
But look at this: 84 percent of people trust the members of their immediate family. Isn’t that great? It would be awful not to trust your family members, but, let’s face it: There are a lot of creeps out there who are members of families. But people understand that this is still the institution that has the best shot at solving problems — be they social, physical, emotional or economic.
However, the institution that is taking over more and more responsibility for solving those problems — government — gets abysmally low marks from the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Only 14 percent trust local government. Even fewer, 9 percent, trust state government. And only 6 percent of Americans have any faith in their federal government.
You have to ask yourself: Why are we giving the institutions almost no one in the country trusts more and more power and authority in our lives? At the same time, why are we tearing asunder the one institution — the family — that seems to work?