Americans have the least confidence in law firms, the press, Wall Street, television news and the U.S. Congress, according to an annual gauge of public trust in 16 leading institutions released by the Harris Poll yesterday.
We have the most confidence in small businesses and the U.S. military, followed by colleges and universities, the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court, medicine, organized religion and public schools.
As a nation, our overall "confidence index" stands at a healthy level of 53 -- based on an average of poll numbers for all the institutions.
The index fell two points from 55 last year. It was at an all-time high of 69 in 1973, followed by 65 three years ago -- a rally that poll director Humphrey Taylor attributes to patriotism after September 11.
The nation's confidence index was at an all-time low of 42 in 1997.
Public opinion of the White House has remained steady for two years, with 31 percent of the respondents saying they have a "great deal" of confidence in the Bush administration. The highest rating was in 2002, when 50 percent expressed strong confidence; the all-time low was 13 percent during the Clinton administration in 1995.
Congress has suffered image woes over the years, typically sharing the lower rungs of public opinion with lawyers, journalists and organized labor since Harris began the poll 39 years ago.
This time, only 16 percent of the respondents said they have strong confidence in lawmakers, with a quarter saying they had "hardly any" confidence in Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, just 11 percent have a great deal of confidence in lawyers -- up a point since last year, and four points more than the legal profession's lowest rating, 7 percent in 1997.
Journalists are also on unsteady ground. Twelve percent of the respondents have a great deal of confidence in the press, down three points since last year -- but up three points since the lowest rating of 9 percent in 1991.
Television news has had a rocky time as well.
Just 16 percent of us have a great deal of confidence in it -- part of a steady decline since 2001, when the number stood at 24 percent.
Though the public still reveres the military, its image has suffered in the past year.
"The public's views of specific institutions have not changed that much, with one very important exception. Those having a great deal of confidence in the leadership of the military has fallen a staggering 15 percentage points since last year -- from 62 percent to 47 percent," the poll stated.
The drop is the largest one-year decline in the history of the poll, and "probably the result of the military's handling of events surrounding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel," the poll noted.
The poll of 1,012 adults was conducted Feb. 8 and 13, with a sampling error margin of three percentage points.