Study: Americans Trust Police More Than Congress


If you were to read the New York Times article Sunday about the public’s trust in police vs. Congress, the caption of the photo would have said it all:

“Despite a vast number of incidences of police brutality and misconduct in recent years, a study finds that the police were the next most trusted category of people with power after principals and military leaders.”

It’s pretty clear where the media stands on police officers.  They’ll accuse them of “a vast number of incidences of police brutality and misconduct” without actually backing their claims… in hopes that by advancing their own agenda, they’ll save their failing media company.

But what do the American people think?

They trust cops more than Congress.

A Pew Research Center study has been released on the faith of Americans in powerful people and institutions.

According to that study, which was released on Thursday, Americans trust police officers, military leaders and local public officials more than members of Congress, tech leaders and journalists.

On top of that, it found that most Americans believe that people who hold a position of power behave unethically at least once in a while.

There’s already a ton of data documenting the decline of trust we have in American institutions. Back in April, Pew released a student documenting how trust in government was at or near historically low levels.

Before that, they’d released a study showing a decline in the public’s trust of the news media. 

Perhaps it’s because of captions like the New York Times one we mentioned at the top of the article.

Our team at Law Enforcement Today understands that distrust in media.  Time and time again, we see media companies slam law enforcement and patriotic Americans, focusing more on advancing their own agenda than actually reporting the news.

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Study: Americans Trust Police More Than Congress

Lee Rainie is the director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center and said that the study demonstrates that attitudes toward people in positions of power or influence vary depending on the specific role and area of responsibility.

“It fits into a bigger story that we’ve been trying to document for a while now that trust is a varied and nuanced proposition to a lot of Americans,” he said. “They don’t have yes-no answers to trust.”

Here’s how the survey worked.  There were 10,618 randomly selected adults in America.

They answered survey questions online between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10.

Those questions looked at a number of different aspects of public confidence in powerful or influential people, including whether those groups care about people, handle resources responsibly or provide accurate information.

There’s a margin of sampling error which is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. 

Those taking part were asked to answer questions about two of eight categories of people: members of Congress, military leaders, journalists, leaders of technology companies, religious leaders, police officers, local elected officials and public school principals. 

On several measures, school principals were the most trusted by participants.

  • 84 percent thought they cared about their students some or most of the time.
  • They were viewed as less likely to display unethical behavior than virtually any other group.
  • Only military leaders were considered comparably as ethical. 

The study found that the vast majority of Americans stood behind cops.  It found 79% of participants believed that police officers care about them all or most of the time.

Almost as many think that they provide fair and accurate information.

The survey starts to split a bit among racial and ethnic groups.

More than 70% of white Americans said police officers treated racial and ethnic groups equally at least some of the time, but only about half of Hispanic Americans and only a third of black Americans said the same. 

Now let’s dive into the trust divide between Congress and local elected officials.

Two-thirds of those who responded to the survey said local elected officials cared about their constituents at least some of the time.

But only half said the same about members of Congress.

When it came to black Americans, local elected officials were less trusted to do their job well than white Americans.

When it came to providing fair and accurate information and handling resources responsibly, the study found members of Congress were the least trusted of all powerful or influential groups. On that same topic, local officials ranked between journalists and religious leaders.

Jonathan Baron is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  His specialty is studying the role of citizens in democracies.  In an interview with the media, he suggested he’s not at all surprised by the finding that trust was greater in local political leaders than in Congress.

He said it’s evidence of a “negative halo effect,” or an impression in one area negatively affects an impression in another. 

“Congress really is dysfunctional, so the negative halo extends to its members,” Dr. Baron.

Baron wasn’t involved with the Pew study, said, but he weighed in on the psyche behind the responses. He argued that although corruption and nepotism exist in local government, more tends to get accomplished.

“Nobody really notices the effects of these problems until the building built by a councilman’s unqualified brother-in-law falls down,” he said. 

As far as journalists go, trust varied based on the question and the respondent’s political affiliation.

Some half of Americans said journalists care about people like them.  But 46% said journalists rarely care.

Republicans weighed in on their belief that journalists would fairly cover all sides of an issue – with only 31% saying they would.  74% of Democrats have faith in journalists.

And a whopping two-thirds of Americans think that journalists behave unethically some or most of the time. 

The positive takeaway is that while most respondents believed that unethical behavior occurs among all influential people, it didn’t overrule a belief that those groups care about others at least some of the time.

A majority of the respondents trusted everyone but members of Congress and tech leaders in this area.

According to previous studies that researchers cited, there are three primary components that play a role in trust: perceptions of competence, honesty and benevolence.

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