According to longitudinal data gathered by the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago, confidence in institutions has been declining for decades but is, on the whole, lower than ever.
Data from the 2014 survey show that 11% of Americans have a high degree of confidence in the executive branch of government, 5% in Congress, and 23% in the Supreme Court. Additionally, only 7% of American have confidence in media, 25% in education, 19% in religion, 38% in medicine, and 41% in science.
Here is the Cliff’s Notes version of the report. I will be quite interested to see the final report, which will provide much more detail.
Surprising to me are the numbers for religion, medicine, and science. I would have figured more support for religion and medicine and less for science. This I say based on the seemingly obvious presence of the anti-science and hyper-religious crowd, as well as the blind trust people seem to have in the medical community. But, this is a good example of how individual perception can be very different from reality, something I try to get my students to understand. You also have to look at these numbers in context– how they compare to other time points and what percentage of people have lower levels of confifence. What you see is that, for the most part, the 1970s (as far back as the data goes) scored the highest in confidence in social institutions overall, that trends show little overall change in confidence in most institutions since that height, and that in most cases, the majority of people still say they have “only some” confidence in these various institutions. Of course, you can learn more by looking at the individual measures over time and correlating those to historical events. I find the gender differences to be quite intriguing. A quick scan of the 2012 report shows that women have less confidence in social institutions compared to men. I am guessing this is likely tied to women’s relative exclusion from major social institution– they are used to seeing how these institutions do not work for them. You’d probably find a similar relationship between confidence and social class, race, etc. This would be something worth studying, if it has not already been done. When I have time I may do some research on this.
The full report for 2014 is not out yet, however, there is much to learn from the 2012 Final Report (Trends in Confidence Institutions_Final), if you are so inclined and have the appropriate amount of confidence in science. : )