For 28 years, since 1993, the Gallup Organization has measured Americans’ confidence in major U.S. institutions. For the first eight years, a horizontal graph line showed little change. In 1993 38 percent of Americans said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 16 institutions. From 2001 to 2005 that level had slowly risen to a high of 43 percent.
Then, the next two years, 2006 and 2007 the index and the graph line took a dramatic plunge to 32 percent of Americans very confident of their institutions. Since that dip, the graph line has looked a lot like the line covering 1993 to 2001, low ripples of fluctuation year by year. The post-plunge recovery took American confidence only halfway back to the levels of the Clinton era.
In the 15 years since 2006, national confidence levels have ranged from highs of 36 percent to the 2014 low of 31 percent of Americans more than a little happy with their institutions. Make of this what you will, but the three high point years, 36 percent confidence levels registered were 2009 Barak Obama’s first year as president, 2017 his successor Donald Trump’s first year and 2020, the year of pandemic.
The down years? The low point, 2014 was the year when Ebola, the Islamic State and the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner dominated the headlines, as did the suicide of the beloved actor Robin Williams. The next least confident year was 2007, when the war in Iraq seemed to be endless and futile. Interesting that the following years of the Wall Street collapse and Great Recession saw confidence in American institutions go up.
Which institutions? Here are the 16 Gallup’s pollsters asked about: America’s public schools, our healthcare system, churches, banks, the Supreme Court, the criminal justice system, the police, the military, technology companies, newspapers, television news, organized labor, small businesses, big businesses, the presidency and the Congress.
The two highest levels of public confidence registered this year went to small business and the military, with 70 percent and 69 percent, respectively. The lowest? Predictably, the Congress at 12 percent and TV news at 16 percent.
By and large the 1993-2021 graph shows a series of long waves with slowly building shallow peaks and valleys. The sharp decline in 2006 was an exception, and those less dramatic, so is the composite graph of the last three years, a quick rise during 2020 followed by a symmetrically sharp dip in 2021. The confidence level went from 33 percent to 36 percent in the Plague Year back, as measured by polling between June 1 and July 5, 2021 to 33 percent.
Mohamed Younis is Editor-in-Chief of Gallup News.