AMERICANS' LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE
IN PEOPLE & INSTITUTIONS
The Gallup Organization conducts two polls at irregular intervals, in order to
assess the degree of confidence that the American people have in various groups
of people and in social institutions. 1 Since the polls are
repeated from time to time, they give an indication of trends: whether
confidence is increasing or slipping.
Confidence in groups of people:
The pollsters ask the question: For each of the
following groups, please tell me whether most of the people in them can be
trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with them?" 2
Results from the 2002-JUL-5 to 8 poll involved a randomly chosen national sample
of 1,013 adults. The sampling error is about 3%. Gallup states that "In
addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in
conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public
opinion polls." 2
Some of the results were:
||Can be trusted
||Can't be too careful
||Other, or depends
|Small business owners
|Youth sports coaches
Civil servants, lawyers and stockbrokers obviously have a serious credibility
problem. We have seen other polls which show that people trust their own lawyer,
while being quite distrustful of lawyers as a group. Perhaps the same is true of
stockbrokers and politicians.
Confidence in religious and other social institutions:
In a separate poll of 1,020 randomly selected adults, Gallup asked about
their feelings towards 16 institutions. They were asked whether they had:
|A great deal,|
|Quite a lot,|
|Very little, or|
confidence in the institutions.
First place, as expected, was held by the U.S. military; 76% had a
great deal or quite a lot of confidence.
But the most interesting data related to organized religion. From 1973 to
the mid-1980s, religious institutions obtained many ratings above 60%. Ratings
suffered in 1989 due to the televangelist scandals involving embezzlement and
sexual improprieties by Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baaker and other Christian leaders.
Confidence sank to only 52%. a 30 year low. In 2001, it had risen to 59%. But by
2002, it had sank to 45% -- a drop of 14 percentage points in one year. This
represents a 20-year low.
2002 results were:
|26% had a "great deal" of confidence;|
|19% had "quite a lot;"|
|32% had "some;"|
|18% had "very little;"|
|3% had no confidence.|
|2% had no opinion|
Since about 75% of Americans now identify
themselves as Christians, (down from 86% in 1990) the confidence in
religious institutions relate primarily to Christian denominations.
The Gallop pollsters wrote: "There is little question that the sex abuse scandal rocking the
Catholic Church is the main cause of the drop-off in confidence this
year." In 1990. there was essentially no difference in the ratings
given by Catholics and Protestants. But in 2002, only about 42% of Roman Catholics
had "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in organized
religion; this compares with 59% for Protestants.
James Guth, professor of political science at Furman University said
that the results could impact a number of social issues. He speculated that: "This may have an impact on the success of pro-life
groups verses the pro-choice groups."
Referring to the sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church, Mary L. Gautier of the
Center for Applied Research in the
Apostolate at Georgetown University said:
"There's been an awful lot of media attention on the bishops. [They will
tell us] 'I have no confidence in the church as a whole, but my bishop
is OK.' "
American Atheists commented: "The figures are all the more remarkable,
considering the efforts of President Bush and assorted politicians and clergy to
the rally the nation under the banner of religious faith following the September
11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Despite the
Islamic religious affiliation of the terrorists who executed the mass murders,
Bush and others have continually emphasized the need for belief in God and the
rituals of ecumenical faith as a sort of cultural armament against 'evil-doers'." 3
- The Gallup Organization's web site is at:
- "Americans Express Little Trust in CEOs of Large Corporations or Stockbrokers: Four in 10 believe most people can
be trusted; teachers are most trusted group," at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr020717.asp
- "Despite September 11, confidence in religion ebbs: Worse Ratings
Than During Televangelist Scandal, Reports Gallup," AANEWS,
Copyright © 2001 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-JUL-18
Latest update: 2004-OCT-16
Author: B.A. Robinson