Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini
Chapter 23: Is trust in government compatible with trustworthy government?
Dwight R. Lee and Jeff R. Clark* 1 Introduction Public trust in government has been declining since the 1960s, and concern over this decline has been increasing. Data from University of Michigan opinion polls, which began in 1958, show trust in government peaking around 1964, when about 75 percent of the respondents answered ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’ to the question, ‘How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right – just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?’. Trust has declined signiﬁcantly since then (although not monotonically). Only about 25 percent of the respondents answered ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’ in 1994.1 Numerous organizations and scholars see this decline in public trust as a threat to the proper functioning of our representative democracy. A brief search of the Internet turns up 20 to 30 websites devoted to the issue.2 Major studies addressing the problem have been conducted recently by the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the University of Virginia, and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.3 Pundits located at all points on the ideological spectrum worry that the decline in trust can undermine government’s ability to perform essential tasks. Joseph Nye (1997, p. 4), Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who leans at least moderately to the left, argues that ‘If people believe that government is incompetent and cannot be trusted, they are less...
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