Ethical behavior such as lying and cheating are difficult to document over the decades. It’s worth noting that the early, most trusting years of the GSS poll coincided with Watergate and the Vietnam War. Trust dropped off in the more stable 1980s.
Crime rates fell in the 1990s and 2000s, and still Americans grew less trusting. Many social scientists blame 24-hour news coverage of distant violence for skewing people’s perceptions of crime.
Can anything bring trust back?
Uslaner and Clark don’t see much hope anytime soon.
Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar launched by Putnam, believes the trust deficit is “eminently fixable” if Americans strive to rebuild community and civic life, perhaps by harnessing technology.
After all, the Internet can widen the circle of acquaintances who might help you find a job. Email makes it easier for clubs to plan face-to-face meetings. Googling someone turns up information that used to come via the community grapevine.
But hackers and viruses and hateful posts eat away at trust. And sitting home watching YouTube means less time out meeting others.
“A lot of it depends on whether we can find ways to get people using technology to connect and be more civically involved,” Sander said.
“The fate of Americans’ trust,” he said, “is in our own hands.”
Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
General Social Survey: http://www3.norc.org/GSS+Website
Tell us about it: Is trust on the decline? According to a recent poll by the Associated Press, only a third of Americans say most people can be trusted. And we're not talking about politicians here: We're talking about our neighbors, our doctors, the waitress who pours our coffee at the morning breakfast spot and the plumber who fixes the leak under our sink. Tell us, readers, what's going on here? We want to hear your thoughts, specifically the answer to two questions: Why do you think Americans are less trusting of each other than in the past and, more importantly, how can we reverse the trend? Please keep your response to 150 words -- we want to be able to run as many responses as possible -- and be sure to include your name and hometown, and a phone number for verification purposes. You can email your response to email@example.com or mail it to To the Editor, The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA, 01915. We will publish the community's response in an upcoming edition of The Salem News.