Confidence in Congress and Supreme Court Drops to Lowest Level in Many Years

New York, N.Y. – May 18, 2011 – The Harris Poll has been measuring the confidence of the American public in the leaders of major institutions since 1966. In most years only a few institutions experience a significant change and this year is no exception. However, this year almost all the changes are negative; fewer people have a great deal of confidence in most institutions than did so a year ago. And the leaders of some institutions have dropped to new depths. Only 6% of all adults now have a great deal of confidence in the leaders of Congress, the lowest level in the 45 years since we first asked this question. In this new poll, 24% of adults have a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court; this is only the fourth time in 45 years that it has fallen below 25%.

Based on all the responses to this poll we calculate the Harris Confidence Index. This year, the Index has fallen to 48, from 53 last year and 54 in 2009. This is the lowest since the Index stood at 44 in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 1,987 adults surveyed by telephone and online between April 11 and 18, 2011 by Harris Interactive. This is the first time this survey has been conducted both by telephone and online. Note that this survey was also conducted prior to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Some of the main findings of this Harris Poll are:

  • At the top of the list, i.e. the largest numbers of people have a great deal of confidence in them, are the leaders of the military (57%) and small business (50%), far ahead of any of the other leaders on the list. These numbers have not changed significantly over the last two years;
  • Also high on the list, but substantially lower, are the leaders of medicine (33%), and colleges and universities (30%);
  • At the bottom of the list, leaders in whom the public has the least confidence are Congress (6% now, compared to 8% and 9% in 2010 and 2009) Wall Street (7% compared to 8% last year) law firms (11% compared to 13% last year) the press (11% compared to 13% last year) major companies (13% compared to 15% last year) organized labor (15% compared to 14% last year) and television news (16% compared to 17% last year).

While confidence in the leaders of most institutions slipped by one or two points since 2010, four institutions saw their numbers fall by five or more percentage points:

  • Those with a great deal of confidence in the White House fell 8 points from 27% to 19%. However, this survey was conducted just before the killing of Osama Bin Laden, an event that lifted the president’s job rating in all polls published since then;
  • Confidence in the Supreme Court fell 7 points from 31% to 24%;
  • Confidence in colleges and universities fell 5 points from 35% to 30%; and
  • Confidence in the courts and the justice system fell 5 points from 24% to 19%.

 

So what?

While the slight downward trend in confidence is bad news for the leaders of many institutions, the 7 point drop in confidence in the Supreme Court and the extraordinarily low level of confidence in Congress are perhaps the two most striking findings. They suggest a possible backlash against the Republican controlled House and some of the decisions of the Roberts court.

TABLE 1

CURRENT CONFIDENCE IN LEADERS OF INSTITUTIONS (2011)

As far as people in charge of running (READ EACH ITEM) are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Base: All Adults

A Great Deal of Confidence

Only some

Confidence

Hardly Any

Confidence

At All

Not

Sure/Decline to Answer

%

%

%

%

The military

57

30

10

3

Small business

50

39

6

4

Medicine

33

47

16

4

Major educational institutions, such as colleges and universities

30

52

15

3

The U.S. Supreme Court

24

53

19

4

Organized religion

24

41

30

5

Public schools

20

50

26

4

The courts and the justice system

19

54

23

3

The White House

19

39

39

3

Television news

16

48

33

3

Organized labor

15

45

35

6

Major companies

13

56

28

4

Law firms

11

49

33

7

The press

11

48

38

3

Wall Street

7

40

46

7

Congress

6

42

48

4

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 2A

CONFIDENCE IN LEADERS OF INSTITUTIONS (2001-2011)

As far as people in charge of running (READ EACH ITEM) are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Those saying A great deal of confidence

Base: All Adults

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Change

2010-

2011

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The military

44

71

62

62

47

47

46

51

58

59

57

-2

Small business

X

X

X

X

47

45

54

47

48

50

50

0

Major educational institutions

such as colleges and universities

35

33

31

37

39

38

37

32

40

35

30

-5

Medicine

32

29

31

32

29

31

37

28

34

34

33

-1

The U.S. Supreme Court

35

41

34

29

29

33

27

25

28

31

24

-7

The White House

21

50

40

31

31

25

22

15

36

27

19

-8

Organized religion

25

23

19

27

27

30

27

25

30

26

24

-2

The courts and the justice

system

X

X

X

X

22

21

21

16

19

24

19

-5

Public schools

X

X

X

X

26

22

22

20

25

22

20

-2

Television news

24

24

21

17

16

19

20

16

22

17

16

-1

Major companies

20

16

13

12

17

13

16

14

11

15

13

-2

Organized labor

15

11

14

15

17

12

15

11

16

14

15

+1

The press

13

16

15

15

12

14

12

10

12

13

11

-2

Law firms

10

13

12

10

11

10

13

10

11

13

11

-2

Congress

18

22

20

13

16

10

10

8

9

8

6

-2

Wall Street

23

19

12

17

15

15

17

11

4

8

7

-1

The executive branch of the

federal government

20

33

26

23

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

HARRIS INTERACTIVE CONFIDENCE INDEX

55

65

57

55

53

52

53

44

54

53

48

-5

X = Not asked; see methodology

Note: Prior to 2011 this survey was conducted by telephone only; the 2011 survey was conducted prior to Osama bin Laden’s death.

 

TABLE 2B

CONFIDENCE IN LEADERS OF INSTITUTIONS (1991-2000)

As far as people in charge of running (READ EACH ITEM) are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Those saying a great deal of confidence

Base: All Adults

 

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The military

X

50

57

39

43

47

37

44

54

48

Small business

47

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Major educational institutions such as colleges and universities

X

29

23

25

27

30

27

37

37

36

Medicine

23

22

22

23

26

29

29

38

39

44

The U.S. Supreme Court

15

30

26

31

32

31

28

37

42

34

The White House

X

25

23

18

13

15

15

20

22

21

Organized religion

21

11

X

X

24

X

20

25

27

26

The courts and the justice system

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Public schools

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Television news

9

12

23

20

16

21

18

26

23

20

Major companies

20

10

16

19

21

21

18

21

23

28

Organized labor

21

11

X

X

8

X

9

13

15

15

The press

X

X

15

13

11

14

11

14

15

13

Law firms

X

13

11

8

9

11

7

11

10

12

Congress

9

16

12

8

10

10

11

12

12

15

Wall Street

14

13

13

15

13

17

17

18

30

30

The executive branch of the federal government

X

X

15

12

9

12

12

17

17

18

HARRIS INTERACTIVE CONFIDENCE INDEX

45

45

47

43

43

47

42

54

60

59

X = Not asked; see methodology

TABLE 2C

CONFIDENCE IN LEADERS OF INSTITUTIONS (1981-1990)

As far as people in charge of running (READ EACH ITEM) are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Those saying a great deal of confidence

Base: All Adults

 

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Small business

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

The military

28

31

35

45

32

36

35

33

32

43

Major educational institutions such as colleges & universities

34

30

36

40

35

34

36

34

32

35

Medicine

37

32

35

43

39

33

36

40

30

35

The U.S. Supreme Court

29

25

33

35

28

32

30

32

28

32

The White House

28

20

23

42

30

19

23

17

20

14

Organized religion

22

20

22

24

21

22

16

17

16

20

The courts and justice system

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Public Schools

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Television news

24

24

24

28

23

27

29

28

25

27

Major companies

16

18

18

19

17

16

21

19

16

9

Organized labor

12

8

10

12

13

11

11

13

10

18

The press

16

14

19

18

16

19

19

18

18

12

Law firms

X

X

12

17

12

14

15

13

X

X

Congress

16

13

20

28

16

21

20

15

16

14

Wall Street

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

8

21

The executive branch of the federal government

24

X

X

X

19

18

19

16

17

14

HARRIS INTERACTIVE CONFIDENCE INDEX

51

46

53

63

51

51

53

50

46

50

X = Not asked; see methodology


TABLE 2D

CONFIDENCE IN LEADERS OF INSTITUTIONS (1966-1980)

As far as people in charge of running (READ EACH ITEM) are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Those saying a great deal of confidence

Base: All Adults

1966

1971

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The military

61

27

35

40

33

24

23

27

29

29

28

Small business

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Major educational institutions such as colleges & universities

61

37

33

44

40

36

31

37

41

33

36

Medicine

73

61

48

57

50

43

42

43

42

30

34

The U.S. Supreme Court

50

23

28

33

40

28

22

29

29

28

27

The White House

X

X

X

18

28

X

11

31

14

15

18

Organized religion

41

27

30

36

32

32

24

29

24

20

22

The courts and justice system

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Public schools

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Television news

X

X

X

41

31

35

28

28

35

37

29

Major companies

55

27

27

29

21

19

16

20

22

18

16

Organized labor

22

14

15

20

18

14

10

14

15

10

14

The press

29

18

18

30

25

26

20

18

23

28

19

Law firms

X

X

X

24

18

16

12

14

18

16

13

Congress

42

19

21

X

18

13

9

17

10

18

18

Wall Street

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

12

The executive branch of the federal government

41

23

27

19

28

13

11

23

14

17

17

HARRIS INTERACTIVE

CONFIDENCE INDEX

100

58

59

69

64

55

44

55

55

50

49

X = Not asked; see methodology

TABLE 3

CONFIDENCE IN INSTITUTIONS; AVERAGE FOR INDEX IN EACH DECADE

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

2010s

1980

49

1990

50

2000

59

2010

53

1971

58

1981

51

1991

45

2001

55

2011

48

1972

59

1982

46

1992

45

2002

65

1973

69

1983

53

1993

47

2003

57

1974

64

1984

63

1994

43

2004

55

1975

55

1985

51

1995

43

2005

53

1966

100

1976

44

1986

51

1996

47

2006

52

1977

55

1987

53

1997

42

2007

53

1978

55

1988

50

1998

54

2008

44

1979

50

1989

46

1999

60

2009

54

AVERAGE FOR DECADE

100

57

51

48

55

51

  Completed in December 2002


TABLE 4

CONFIDENCE LEVELS – BY PARTY

As far as people in charge of running … are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Those saying a great deal of confidence

Base: All Adults

Total

Party ID

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

The military

57

70

49

59

Small business

50

67

39

53

Medicine

33

39

31

31

Major educational institutions, such as colleges and universities

30

23

38

29

The U.S. Supreme Court

24

29

23

23

Organized religion

24

32

21

21

Public schools

20

17

26

17

The courts and the justice system

19

20

21

21

The White House

19

6

35

14

Television news

16

13

19

13

Organized labor

15

9

24

12

Major companies

13

24

7

11

Law firms

11

8

14

10

The press

11

8

14

10

Wall Street

7

11

6

5

Congress

6

7

6

3

Methodology

The Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone and online, within the United States between April 11 and 18, 2011 among a nationwide cross section of 1,987 adults (aged 18 and over). The interviews conducted by telephone (1010) included a nationwide cross section of adults with landlines in their households. The interviews conducted online (977) included a nationwide sample who have agreed to take part in Harris Interactive surveys, and who indicated not having a landline (i.e., cell phone only), or using their cell phone for almost all of their calls (cell phone mostly), and thus were included to ensure representation of these groups that are lacking among a traditional RDD telephone sample. Telephone data only were adjusted to ensure appropriate representation on number of telephone/voice lines and number of adults in the household, and online data only were are adjusted by propensity to be online to correct for attitudinal/behavioral differences between our panel and those who respond via phone. Finally, for the combined telephone and online data, figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, household income, and phone status (cell phone only, cell phone mostly, dual users, landline mostly, landline only) were adjusted as necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Population proportions for demographic variables were acquired from the 2010 Current Population Survey, while phone status proportions were acquired from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

The Harris Interactive Confidence in Leadership Index measures changes in the public’s confidence in various institutions. It is derived in the following manner:

1. The index is based on the mean value of the items asked.

2. All items have equal weight.

3. The year 1966, the first year the items were asked, was set as a reference year for the index and assigned a score of 100.

4. In order to yield a score of 100 in 1966, the mean value of the original 10 items was multiplied by a factor of 2.11. This same factor was then applied to the mean score in subsequent years, as long as the same items were asked.

5. Whenever a new item is added, the multiplication factor is changed so that the new item has no effect on that year’s score. The new factor is derived by calculating the index with and without the new item(s), taking the ratio of the two scores, and multiplying this ratio by the old factor. (The current factor is 2.14).

6. In years when an item included in a previous year is not asked, it is assumed for calculation purposes that no change has occurred in that item since the last time it was asked.

 

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J40012 and 40111

Q601

The Harris Poll ® #58, May 18, 2011

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll

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