For 44 years, since 1966, The Harris Poll has measured Americans’ confidence in the leaders of our major institutions. Based on the responses, Harris calculates an overall Confidence Index. Over the past almost 5 decades, we have seen the Confidence Index rise and fall, but by and large, it has remained steady somewhere in the 50s. It reached its peak in 1973 at 69, and it bottomed out in 1997 at 42 (actually the 90s in general were somewhat of a down time with “confidence” hovering in the 40s for almost the entire decade).
And today, Harris Interactive’s Confidence Index stands at 53, one point lower than last year.
The beauty of an index is that it offers a birds-eye view of how respondents (in this case Americans) feel about a certain issue and it measures trends in attitudes and experiences over time.
But… an index doesn’t always reflect the underlying (and sometimes significant) changes in the public consciousness. While our index (and others) often appear static, the attributes that make up the index may experience more dramatic fluctuations.
And today’s Confidence Index is no exception. While the top-line figure is 53, essentially the same as it has been for the past 7 years, some of the specific measures that make up today’s Index have changed considerably from last year and over the past decade. For example, while we entered the decade in 2000 with a Confidence Index only slightly higher than it is today, our confidence in:
- ↑ The military has increased 11 points since 2000.
- ↑ The White House has increased 6 points since 2000.
- ↓ The medical field has dropped 10 points since 2000.
- ↓ Major companies have dropped 13 points since 2000.
- ↓ Wall Street has plummeted 22 points since 2000.
And while the Confidence Index is virtually the same as it was last year, our confidence in:
- ↑ The courts and the justice system has gone up 5 points from last year.
- ↓ Major educational institutions have gone down 5 points from last year.
- ↓ Television news has gone down 5 points from last year.
- ↓ The White House has gone down 9 points from last year.
Some changes are self-evident and we are made aware of them routinely in the news … the country’s financial collapse (and thus our crumbling faith in Wall Street); corporate deception (and thus our subsequent lack of trust in the leaders of major companies); the disrepair of the medical industry (and thus the growing need for reform); and the loss of momentum for policy change (and thus the decline in the White House approval ratings). But some are surprising – why less confidence in colleges and universities today and why more confidence in the justice system from just last year?
And why, do you believe, that the 90s – so closely aligned with prosperity – are also our lowest period of confidence?