- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2007

The nation has put its trust in Main Street America rather than Capitol Hill. Of all our public institutions, we have the most confidence in small business and the least in the U.S. Congress, according to an annual Harris survey released yesterday.

Overall, 96 percent of Americans surveyed expressed some level of trust in those who work outside the big business world — 54 percent of the respondents had a “great deal” of confidence in small businesses and 42 percent at least “some” confidence.

The U.S. military ranks second, with 79 percent of the respondents expressing a degree of confidence — 46 percent with a lot of trust, a third with some.

This is the first time since 1988 that the military has fallen to second place in the poll, which has been conducted annually since 1966.

Lawmakers are at rock bottom. Just 10 percent of respondents said they have a great deal of confidence in their senators and representatives; more than a third said they have “hardly any confidence” and about half had some confidence.

Journalists fared little better: 12 percent of the public has a great deal of confidence in the press, with 49 percent having some confidence and 38 percent hardly any.

“There is a small theme in what went up and what went down this year. Institutions that are more in the public domain such as the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court, organized religion and the press all went down,” the survey noted.

“Institutions that are more business-oriented, such as small businesses, medicine, major companies, Wall Street and law firms, all showed an increase in the confidence people have in them. A year of scandals in Washington seems to have taken its toll on attitudes toward public institutions, and the corporate scandals of the early part of the decade have started to fade from view.”

There were winners and losers, though.

“The institutions with the largest decreases are the U.S. Supreme Court (dropping six percentage points from 33 percent to the current 27 percent), organized religion (dropping three percentage points from 30 percent to 27 percent) and the White House (also dropping three points from 25 percent to 22 percent),” the survey said.

Still, the level of confidence in President Bush is above what it was for President Clinton during some years of his administration; the confidence number ranged from 13 percent to 15 percent between 1995-97, for example.

Other organizations also bottomed out during the same era, with the lowest confidence numbers of any institutions on record. Congress and law firms hit 8 percentage points in 1994 and organized labor in 1995.

Meanwhile, a certain long-term optimism prevails around the nation despite wavering trust in certain sectors, according to the Harris “trust index.” Public confidence in all institutions averages 56 percent from 2000 to 2007. During the 1990s, it was 48 percent and in the 1980s 51 percent. Currently, the nation is almost on par with the 1970s, when the trust index was 57, the survey found.

The nationwide poll of 1,013 adults was conducted Feb. 6-12, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

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