American Trust

December 13th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

A new poll suggests that distrust can lead to social irresponsibility. How can we reverse the trend?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

The results of a recent poll, conducted by the Associated Press and German research institute GfK, revealed a sad truth: Americans are becoming more suspicious of one another. An even sadder truth, according to social scientists, is the fact that mistrust can actually promote corruption and irresponsibility.

These days, writes AP’s Connie Cass, only one-third of Americans believe that most people can be trusted. When the General Social Survey first asked the question of trustworthiness in 1972, half of Americans felt that most people could be trusted.

The conclusion that the team gleaned from the survey: “Americans are a mistrustful bunch.” Not a surprising conclusion, given the results, which included:

  • 55 percent don’t trust the people they hire to come into their homes to do work
  • 50 percent have little trust in the people who prepare their food in restaurants
  • 75 percent mistrust people driving cars while they’re driving, biking or walking
  • 81 percent said they trust the government to do what is right “only some of the time”

Cass writes that “social trust” brings about a “society where it’s easier to compromise to make a deal. Where people are willing to work with those who are different from them for the common good. Where trust appears to promote economic growth.”

The obvious solution is to start trusting each other more. But that’s more easily said than done, of course. The research team found that people’s lifetime trust levels are more or less set in place by their mid-twenties; and each generation has reached adulthood with less inclination to be trusting than the generation before.

How can we promote trust and trustworthiness? Do you feel less inclined to believe in the people around you than you did in the past? Weigh in here.