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Here's Just How Little Confidence Americans Have In Political Institutions

Trust in the institutions that have been the pillars of U.S. politics and capitalism is crumbling.

That is one finding from the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, which shows that Americans have limited confidence in its public schools, courts, organized labor and banks — and even less confidence in big business, the presidency, the political parties and the media.

The only institution that Americans have overwhelming faith in is the military — 87 percent say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military. That is a striking change from the 1970s during and after the Vietnam War.

In 1977, according to Gallup, 57 percent had that level of confidence in the military, 30 points lower. There have been some big changes in the last 40 years, including the draft being abolished and fewer and fewer Americans knowing someone serving in the military.

The American public has the least confidence in Congress, the body tasked with making laws that can affect every person in the country. Just 8 percent of people have a great deal of confidence in the institution. Almost two-thirds of Republicans expressed little confidence in Congress — and their party runs it.

Not far behind Congress is the Republican Party, not a good sign for the GOP in an election year with an unpopular president. Just 29 percent of Americans said they have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the party, compared with 68 percent who said they don't have very much or none at all in the party.

Democrats, though, should temper their glee. They fare better, but not by much. Just 36 percent expressed confidence in the Democratic Party versus 62 percent who did not.

And the media looks just about as bad as the GOP, with 68 percent not having much confidence or none at all in the press.

Particularly worrisome for the media is that a majority of Republicans, a 53 percent, have no confidence in them at all. Combined with those who said not very much confidence, 90 percent of Republicans expressed a lack of confidence in the media.

Forty-two percent of Democrats felt the same, as did three-quarters of independents. Fairness and objectivity are tenets and pillars of a free press, but those have been eroded in the eyes of many Americans.

At the same time, however, a solid majority said they trust their favorite news source more than President Trump by a 29-point margin, 58 percent to 29 percent. That included 85 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents. However, 63 percent of Republicans still trust the president more.

Trump has taken on the media, calling it "fake news" and even attacked the conservative media juggernaut Fox News Channel.

Editor's note: This poll was conducted Jan. 8-10 and surveyed 1,350 adults with a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points. There were 1,092 registered voters surveyed with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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