What explains the loss of faith in institutions?

by Ryan Streeter on June 16, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Gallup’s updated numbers on American confidence came out this week, and they’re still not pretty.

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In the season of Trump and Sanders it has become common among commentators to talk about the loss of faith in institutions. The disconnect between  elites and a restive populace has been on full display this past year.

But what really explains that sharp drop that began in 2004, four years before the financial crisis, and what keeps confidence from rebounding even as the economy improves?

The biggest confidence drops in the past ten years since 2006 happened with regard to banks, Congress, religious institutions, and the media (newspapers and TV). Public schools were not too far behind, but the rest of the institutions that Gallup tracks have similar confidence levels today as they did ten years ago.

The loss of faith in banks, which has mostly occurred since the financial crisis, is probably the easiest to explain. But what about the others? The bigger question is whether and how the loss of confidence in specific institutions that Gallup tracks is related to the resurgent populism and popular unrest we see in the election. What is it about religious organizations and the media? Why has Congress taken a bigger hit than the presidency?

There’s been widespread adoption of the notion that Americans have lost faith in institutions, but there’s too little analysis and explanation of exactly what that means and its effects on our economy and politics.