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Wake up Washington!

Wake up Washington!

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It’s no secret that the American people have held politicians in low esteem for quite some time now. Approval ratings for Congress, the president and the Supreme Court have been at or near all-time lows since the Bush presidency. But last week the 2014 General Social Survey, which has tracked public attitudes towards government, financial institutions and media for 40 years, found astoundingly low approval rates. In simplest terms, the shocking results should be a very loud and urgent wakeup call for Washington, D.C., and the politicians whose dysfunctional performance is destroying Americans’ faith in our own government.

The survey was conducted by the independent research firm NORC at the University of Chicago with funding from the National Science Foundation. The data was recently released and then was analyzed by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the General Social Survey. The Associated Press’ Washington, D.C., correspondent, Emily Swanson, reported on five major issue areas late last week, from which the following is a summary. The full survey results can be accessed online at


The presidency

Hitting near-record lows not seen since 1996, only 11 percent said they have confidence in the presidency. Citing known partisan preferences, where political parties have more confidence when someone from their party is in the White House, the survey found only 3 percent of Republicans have confidence in the current presidency, while Democrats dropped from 25 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2014.

But what’s more shocking is that Independents, who are estimated to make up 40 percent of the voting population — higher than either those who call themselves Republicans or Democrats — had a mere 10 percent confidence level in the presidency in 2014.



As Swanson wrote: “If there’s one issue that unites Americans, it’s that hardly anyone has much confidence in Congress.” Indeed, the majority has “hardly any” confidence in Congress, while a mere 7 percent of Democrats, 5 percent of Independents and 3 percent of Republicans had “a great deal” of confidence. Those under 35, who normally show more confidence than older voters, could only muster a meager one in 10 with “a lot” of confidence.


Supreme Court

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts isn't finding much public approval either and has “fallen to a 40-year low.” Surprisingly, Democrats, at a record-low 26 percent, had more confidence in the court than Republicans, who came in at 22 percent, while only one in five Independents had a “great deal” of confidence in the court and a record high of 20 percent of those surveyed said they have “hardly any” confidence.


The media

If politicians and judges are taking a well-deserved hit, the media that reports on them is far from immune. Only 7 percent, a record low, have “a lot” of confidence in the media while nearly half, 44 percent, have “hardly any” confidence. By party, only 3 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats held “a lot” of confidence in the press, with a mere 10 percent overall having confidence in television.


Financial institutions and organized labor

Confidence in banks and major companies plummeted from 42 percent in 1977, a record high, to the record low of 11 percent in 2010 and now stands at 15 percent for financial institutions and 18 percent for major companies, which was at 31 percent in 1984.

But the news is even worse for organized labor, with a mere 10 percent saying they have “a lot” of confidence in unions these days.


What’s it all mean?

In a nutshell, the survey results show an alarming lack of confidence by our populace in the major institutions that govern and operate in our society today. That virtually all the numbers have fallen by one-third or more since the survey was started in the '70s is a clear indicator that something has to change if the American people are to remain even marginally confident in their own government, politicians, businesses and unions – to say nothing about the media that reports on same.

Our politicians and institutions with such horribly low approval numbers have their work cut out for them if they hope to restore citizen confidence. They can start by abandoning back-room deal cutting such as the TransPacific Partnership, end Congress’ profligate use of riders on non-related legislation, and concentrate on serving the needs of the 99 percent of our citizens instead of continually kow-towing to the uber-wealthy 1 percent and the military-industrial complex.

George Ochenski's column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. Contact him at

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