Public trust in government remains low. Only about one-quarter of Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (22%).
When the National Election Study began asking about trust in government in 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time. Trust in government began eroding during the 1960s, amid the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the decline continued in the 1970s with the Watergate scandal and worsening economic struggles. Confidence in government recovered in the mid-1980s before falling again in the mid-1990s. But as the economy grew in the late 1990s so too did confidence in government. Public trust reached a three-decade high shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but declined quickly thereafter. Since 2007, the share saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%.
Currently, 36% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they can trust government, compared with 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaners. Throughout Trump’s tenure, more Republicans than Democrats reported trusting the government, though that has flipped since Biden’s election. Since the 1970s, trust in government has been consistently higher among members of the party that controls the White House than among the opposition party. Republicans have often been more reactive than Democrats to changes in political leadership, with Republicans expressing much lower levels of trust during Democratic presidencies, while Democrats’ attitudes have tended to be somewhat more consistent, regardless of which party controls the White House. However, the GOP and Democratic shift in attitudes between the end of the Trump presidency and the early Biden presidency is roughly the same magnitude.
Historically there have been modest differences between generational groups in trust in government and that remains the case today.
Black Americans’ trust in government is now substantially higher that it was last year (15% then, 37% now), while views among White and Hispanic adults have seen less change over this period. As was the case under the Obama and Clinton administrations, Black and Hispanic adults now express more trust in the government to do the right thing than do White adults. Asian American trust in government also is now substantially higher than White trust in government. During the Republican presidencies of Reagan, G.W. Bush and Trump, White Americans were substantially more likely than Black Americans to express trust in the federal government.
Sources: Pew Research Center, National Election Studies, Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, and CNN Polls. Data from 2020 and later come from Pew Research Center’s online American Trends Panel; prior data from telephone surveys. Question wording can be found here. See 2019 report for more details on changes in survey mode. More information on the Pew Research Center’s polling methodology can be found here For party, generation and race/ethnicity analysis, selected datasets obtained from searches of the iPOLL Databank provided by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. White, Black and Asian American adults include those who report being one race and are not Hispanic. Hispanics are of any race. Asian adults interviewed in English only.