Friday, June 20, 2008

Congress Gets Lowest Institutional Rating Ever, Poll Finds

Gallup reports that confidence in Congress is lower than any other American institution, a finding unprecedented in the history of that particular survey item:

Gallup's annual update on confidence in institutions finds just 12% of Americans expressing confidence in Congress, the lowest of the 16 institutions tested this year, and the worst rating Gallup has measured for any institution in the 35-year history of this question.

Confidence in Congress

Gallup first asked about confidence in institutions in 1973, repeating the question biannually through 1983, and obtaining annual updates since then. This year's update comes from a June 9-12 Gallup Poll.

In the latest update, Congress ranks just below HMOs, for whom 13% of Americans express "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence. Big business, the criminal justice system, organized labor, newspapers, television news, and the presidency all receive relatively low confidence ratings.

In contrast, Americans express the most confidence in the military, as they have each year since 1988 (with the exception of 1997, when small business edged it out). Small business ranks second in the current poll, just ahead of the police. These are the only three institutions that for whom a majority of Americans express a high degree of confidence.

From 1973 through 1985, organized religion was the top rated institution. Today, just 48% of Americans are confident in organized religion, one of its lowest ratings ever. The lowest score for religion to date was 45% in 2002 at the height of the Catholic Church's priest sex abuse scandal.
The most impressive finding is backing for the military, which shows widespread popular support for the professionalism of the armed forces, even amid a war that has badly split the public along partisan lines.

Politically, numbers like these appear to presage electoral conditions of earthquake proportions. I've been discussing party realignments this week in my classes, and while I don't think the Democrats are likely to make long-term gains at the presidential level (Barack Obama, indeed, may fail to beat John McCain), the political environment feels to have the makings of political change of historic proportion.