Americans’ declining trust in government — in one chart

September 27, 2013

How much trust and confidence do Americans have in the federal government? Not as much as they've had for much of the past four decades.

A new Gallup poll makes this plain to see. Trust in two of the three branches of government — the judicial and executive — are down from 2012 levels, while trust in the legislative branch, which inspires the least confidence, is right where it was last year.

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There's a broader decline worth noting, too. Trust in the executive and judicial branches were on the rise from the late 1970s until the late 1990s. It started to drop in the early 2000s. At a similar point, declining trust in the legislative branch started to dip more severely after a period of improvement.

Gallup notes that trust in government jumped after the 2012 Democratic National Convention. So the drop in the year since could reflect a natural wane in enthusiasm after a surge keyed to a specific event.

The reality is that as the government is dealing with crucial domestic and foreign policy issues such as Syria, the debt limit and funding the government, to name a few, the American public isn't overwhelmingly saying, 'Hey, we're confident you guys are going to work this all out.'

And it could be getting worse for the government's public image, considering what's at stake.

"If the federal government is unable to pass a federal budget to avoid a government shutdown, or reach an agreement to raise the federal debt limit in the coming weeks, trust is likely to continue to erode further," concludes Gallup.

It's a reminder that what happens in Washington in the coming weeks could speak volumes about the way Americans perceive their government only about a year from the midterm elections.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · September 27, 2013