The Washington Post

The American people are slowly becoming nihilists

NEWSFLASH: The American people have very little confidence in Congress. In fact, according to a new Gallup poll, just 7 percent have either a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in Congress as an institution. That's the lowest it has been since at least 1973 -- and probably ever. Ouch.


But for all the constant chatter about how Americans increasingly hate Congress, much of the analysis misses this key point: Americans increasingly hate almost everything else too.

In fact, Gallup has regularly tested 16 institutions over the past four decades, and Congress is hardly the only one of them in the American public's doghouse.

Confidence is also at a historic low when it comes to organized religion (45 percent), the Supreme Court (30 percent), public schools (26 percent), newspapers (22 percent) and TV news (18 percent). And it's within a few points of an all-time low when it comes to banks (26 percent), organized labor (22 percent), the presidency (29 percent), the police (53 percent), the medical system (34 percent) and big business (21 percent).

Observe the disappearing confidence:

So it begs the question: Are all of these institutions truly falling apart before our very eyes, or are Americans being a little ... well ... dramatic?

Writing this post from inside the Beltway, we hate to suggest it's more the latter (that would be out of touch). But doesn't it seem odd that pretty much everything would come crashing down all at once? Are Americans really emerging nihilists who no longer believe in their societal institutions? Or are they just more aware of these institutions' various foibles and, thus, more willing to register their discontent?

It's probably a little more the latter than people realize.

Don't celebrate just yet, though, Congress. You're still the worst of the worst. But at least you've got some company.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Philip Bump · June 19, 2014

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