Everyone knows that trust is in terminal decline across a broad range of institutions, including government.
Maybe especially government since we expect our legislators to protect us from fraud in all the other institutions and they've done a lousy job in recent years. They not only allowed fraud to permeate our financial institutions, they let salmonella get into our peanut butter, lead paint onto our kids' toys, and growth hormone into our baseball heroes.
Now an MIT graduate student, Michael Sances, has shed a little light onto the causes of this growing mistrust. Writing in one of my favorite blogs, The Monkey Cage, he points out that -- while trust has been in decline since the 1960s no matter which party was in power -- the rate of decline has always had a partisan twist. Members of the president's political party have always had more confidence in government, as this chart shows:
Members of both parties became less trusting from the 60s through the 70s. That's probably not too surprising since that period included the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the Iran hostage crisis.
But starting in the Reagan-Bush presidencies, Republicans' trust was strikingly higher than Democrats'. And even though public condidence in government began to build under the good economy President Clinton enjoyed (or helped cause), Republicans remained relatively distrustful.
Yet, while overall trust declined during the Iraq war years of the second President Bush's term, Republicans were far more confident than Democrats. Conversely, they have been far less confident under President Obama.
Overall, the trust gap has been remarkably partisan. And in recent years, it has been growing ever wider. Could partisanship itself be contributing to these feelings of mistrust?