Photography by Portland Press Herald Press Herald via Getty Images
By Claire Zillman
November 23, 2015

If public trust in the government served as elected officials’ report card, they’d be failing in a big way.

Only 19% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to new data released by the Pew Research Center on Monday.

Pew began tracking public trust in the government in 1958 when three-quarters of Americans said they had faith in federal officials. But that figure has eroded over time due in part to the escalation of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the Watergate Scandal in the 1970s, and worsening economic struggles. Confidence in the government saw a brief recovery in the 1980s but it worsened again in the 1990s. According to Pew, the share of Americans who say they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30% since 2007.

 

Democrats and independents who lean left have more trust in the government—26%—than Republicans and right-leaning independents, 11% of whom have confidence in Washington.

Distrust in the government is so low that 55% of the public says “ordinary Americas” could do a better job of leading the nation than current elected officials. And yet, most Americans want the federal government to play a role big issues like combating terrorism, responding to nature disasters, the education system, and the environment.

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