Does Lack of Confidence Lead to Change?

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Last week I read a report summarizing a recent survey entitled, “Confidence in Institutions.” Conducted by Gallup since 1973, the survey asks Americans to share their level of confidence in a number of institutions in the United States. This most recent survey was conducted in early June by telephone with over 1000 respondents from across the country. The headline of the article was, “Confidence … at a New Low.” 

According to these data, confidence is at a record low for public schools (only 29% express a high degree of confidence), church or organized religion (44%), banks (21%), and television news (21%). But while these were new records, there was an overwhelming lack of confidence in most institutions.

Ranking last in confidence for the third year in a row was Congress (13%). It is interesting to note that in 2010, Congress measured only an 11% confidence rating and this was the lowest measure ever for any institution. More on this in a minute.

But low levels of confidence were expressed for many institutions:


-       HMOs – 19%

-       Big Business – 21%

-       Banks – 21%

-       Organized Labor – 21%

-       Television news – 21%

-       Newspapers – 25%

-       The Criminal Justice System – 29%

-       Public Schools – 29%


In fact, the only three institutions with high degrees of confidence greater than half of the respondents were:

-       The Military – 75%

-       Small Business – 63%

-       The Police – 56%


No institution has seen any significant increase in its confidence rating. Those rated the highest, for example, have simply maintained their previous confidence levels. The most dramatic declines in confidence have related to banks, organized religion, public schools, Congress and television news.

Lest anyone think that higher education is immune from this confidence gap, other surveys show overall confidence in higher education to be at about 50%, although significantly higher for those with a college degree (closer to 80%).

This report is not a surprise and reflects the general degree of dissatisfaction in this country. Every day we read reports about declining degrees of optimism about the economy and world events. With so much controversy and scandal with many of these institutions, it is understandable that confidence levels are low.

But the question for me is … what do we do about this? And apparently, the answer is … very little! While I have yet to find anything other than anecdotal evidence about many of these institutions, it seems clear that lack of confidence does not lead to change. And the best example of this that is irrefutable may be Congress.

Despite the extraordinary low levels of confidence in Congress, we continue to re-elect members to the House and the Senate.   Since 1964, the lowest percentage of re-elected House members was 85%. In most elections, the percentage is at or above 90%. Senate re-elections have been more volatile (as low as 55% in 1980), but typically 80% or more.

If our confidence is so low, why do we re-elect the same people? The research says it is based on familiarity (name recognition) and money (advertising). But do we change our bank or financial services? Do we read a different newspaper or just stop paying attention to the news (in print and on TV)? Do we choose a different school or a private school?

Vince Lombardi once said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”   We have the ability to change our institutions. But it will take more than rhetoric. Maybe it’s just easier to complain.

(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)



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Guest Thursday, 31 July 2014