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An all-time low for Congress

Four percent of Americans have a great deal of faith in Congress. Wouldn’t you like to meet them? What extraordinary optimists they must be! They could surely take whatever problems you’re having in life and put a positive spin on them.

On the other hand, the Gallup poll that ferreted out those 4 percent also had a margin of error of plus or minus – you got it – 4 percent. So technically, it’s possible not a single American has a great deal of faith in Congress today.

Gallup interviewed 1,027 adults across the country from June 5-8. It found a nation broadly skeptical of almost every major institution, from the presidency to public schools, from Congress to the courts.

The 7 percent who had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress was the lowest ever not just for Congress but for any American institution Gallup has polled about over the past 41 years.

Others in which the public has little confidence: TV news (18 percent), news on the Internet (19) and newspapers (22). Big business (21) and banks (26) fare poorly. Organized labor (22), the criminal justice system (23) and the health care system (23) also win little trust.

The presidency came in with 29 percent having confidence and the Supreme Court was at 30 percent. That’s the lowest ever for the justices and a six-year low for the White House.

Just three of 17 institutions win the confidence of a majority of Americans: The military (74 percent), small business (62) and police (53).

These results are discouraging. Some of the institutions, such as Congress, have earned their low marks while more trustworthy ones are swept up in a tide of cynicism that first infected the country through Vietnam and Watergate and that has gained power over the past decade. It’s a worrisome trend, both because Congress and others are so incapable and because their ineptitude feeds a distrust that makes self-governance ever harder going forward.

Despite the universal disgust with Congress, voters will send most incumbents back into office this fall. In North Carolina, none of the 13 races for the U.S. House are considered truly competitive. That reflects less on the favored candidates’ brilliance and more on the gerrymandered districts in which only one party has a chance at victory. Nationally, only 13 of 435 seats – 3 percent – are true toss-ups.

This Friday, we celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. That declaration was the ultimate expression of optimism that Americans could institute a successful government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. Two hundred and thirty-eight years later, 19 out of 20 Americans do not have confidence in Congress. We have much work to do.

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