Americans Losing Confidence in Institutions, Especially Public Schools and News Media

The headline for Gallup’s summary is that Americans’ confidence in the public school system fell below 30%, to 29% expressing significant confidence, for the first time since the polling company began asking the question in 1973. In 2011, it was 34%.

With that one-year slip, public schools fell from almost the status of the President of the United States to a tie with the criminal justice system.

Another institution that is rapidly losing comparative ground is the news media.  Newspapers are down to 25% confidence, and TV news is down to 21%; the historical average for both is in the low thirties.  About as many Americans now have a high level of confidence in the TV news as say the same about banks, organized labor, and big business.  (HMOs and Congress fill out the bottom of the barrel in the teens.)

Of the sixteen institutions listed, the top four have remained the same, whether considered against last year or historical averages: military (75% in 2012), small business (63%), the police (56%), and church/organized religion (44%).  The only potential change in that top 4 that might linger in the near future is that the medical system is on course to surpass religion.

It would be extremely interesting to see how similar Rhode Islanders are to the American norm.  On the national level, confidence in small business is more than double that of public schools (with their heavy association with unions), organized labor, banks, and big business.  Yet, the strategy of Rhode Island’s governing class, on display in the budget that just made its way into law for FY13, has been to squeeze self-starters and small businesses with taxes, tolls, fees, and regulations in order to shuffle more money to public schools, preserve the benefits of union labor, satisfy the risk-aversion of money lenders, and create special incentives for large companies.

Unless Rhode Islanders are very different from their fellow Americans, one would expect more tension from that disconnect.  (It would be purely speculative to see, in this, some explanation for the shrinking confidence in news media.)