Public trust in government remains low, as it has for much of the 21st century. Only two-in-ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (19%). Trust in the government has declined somewhat since last year, when 24% said they could trust the government at least most of the time.
When the National Election Study began asking about trust in government in 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time. Trust in government began eroding during the 1960s, amid the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the decline continued in the 1970s with the Watergate scandal and worsening economic struggles. Confidence in government recovered in the mid-1980s before falling again in the mid-1990s. But as the economy grew in the late 1990s, so too did confidence in government. Public trust reached a three-decade high shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but declined quickly thereafter. Since 2007, the shares saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%.
Today, 29% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they trust government just about always or most of the time, compared with 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaners. Democrats report slightly less trust in the federal government today than a year ago; there has been no change in the views of Republicans.
Throughout Donald Trump’s tenure as president, more Republicans than Democrats reported trusting the government, though that has flipped since Joe Biden’s election. Since the 1970s, trust in government has been consistently higher among members of the party that controls the White House than among the opposition party. Republicans have often been more reactive than Democrats to changes in political leadership, with Republicans expressing much lower levels of trust during Democratic presidencies; Democrats’ attitudes have tended to be somewhat more consistent, regardless of which party controls the White House. However, the GOP and Democratic shifts in attitudes between the end of the Trump presidency and the early Biden administration were roughly the same magnitude.