CNN Poll: Trust in government at all-time low
August 8th, 2014
06:00 AM ET
9 years ago

CNN Poll: Trust in government at all-time low

Washington (CNN) - Four decades after President Richard Nixon resigned, a slight majority of Americans still consider Watergate a very serious matter, a new national survey shows. But how serious depends on when you were born.

The CNN/ORC International poll's release comes one day before the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974. With the Watergate scandal escalating, the second-term Republican president had lost much of his political backing, and he faced almost certain impeachment and the prospects of being removed from office by a Democratic-dominated House and Senate.

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There's a big generational divide over the significance of the scandal, with a majority of those older than 40 describing Watergate as a very serious problem and those under 40 saying it was just politics.

The poll also indicates that the public's trust in government is at an all-time low.

Just 13% of Americans say the government can be trusted to do what is right always or most of the time, with just over three-quarters saying only some of the time and one in 10 saying they never trust the government, according to the poll.

"The number who trust the government all or most of the time has sunk so low that it is hard to remember that there was ever a time when Americans routinely trusted the government," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

"But polls conducted by the University of Michigan consistently found a majority of Americans in the 1960s and early 1970s saying that the government could be trusted all or most of the time - until Watergate. In 1972, 53% said they trusted the government always or most of the time. By 1974, that figure had plummeted to 36%, and except for a brief period of patriotic sentiment immediately after the 9/11 attacks, it has remained under 50% ever since," Holland added.

The survey indicates that skepticism doesn't stop at the White House and Capitol Hill: Only 17% of Americans believe that big business can be trusted to do what is right always or most of the time.

The scandal was triggered by the June 1972 breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters, which was located at the time in Washington's Watergate complex. Attempts by the Nixon White House to cover up its involvement were investigated by Congress, leading to a constitutional crisis.

Fifty-one percent of those questioned say Watergate was a very serious matter because it revealed corruption in the Nixon administration, with 46% saying it was just politics - the kind of thing both parties engage in. The 51% is unchanged from 14 years ago, when CNN last asked the question.

The poll indicates a slight partisan divide, with Democrats by a 58%-37% saying Watergate was a very serious matter, with Republicans saying the same thing by a 51%-48% margin. By a 51%-46% margin, independents say Watergate was just politics.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International from July 18-20, with 1,012 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

soundoff (240 Responses)
  1. Obviously Sniffin and Garggling Ozass in Tampa

    Lies and Coruption run rampant throughout DC. Republican, Democrat... President, Congressperson... They no longer represent the will if the People, only their self interests.

    August 8, 2014 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  2. Clay

    George W Bush's transition.....dumb, dumber, dumbest, dummy. George Bush is the dumbest president in history. He even looks stupid. Ole " W " the dummy.

    August 8, 2014 06:33 am at 6:33 am |
  3. rick

    Yes it was a major talk among everyone. And in the eyes of many during that time it shook the confidence in the government. People saw Nixon as the president that ended the Vietnam war and kept the promisses of bringing the boys home. Of course there were several views on this scandal. And from one extreme to another. But people didnt know then. And its still going on today. The total truth of realy what happened or why. And we dont want to admit it today. But it did seem to be a much simpler time. But its results did affect the views.. In schools.. On street corners.. At gatherings of all kinds. Almost any place where people were. The topic was always discussed. By adults. Kids. And we were confused because trust in the presidency was shaken. Trust in the government was shaken. And today 40 years later it still is.

    August 8, 2014 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  4. Marie MD

    What government? We have elected officials whose main reason to exist since 2008-2009 was to tank our country at all costs.
    The only terrorists we have to be very afraid of are the ones at home in the capitol in DC. rafaelito the Canadian, bachman and other teaklans like them don't care about anything except their ego.

    August 8, 2014 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  5. PaulG

    No our government is not trustworthy, citizens' best interests rank pretty low on the priority list.

    August 8, 2014 06:49 am at 6:49 am |
  6. croaton999

    This is news? The American People have never trusted government. Especially this administration who has time and again shown they are quite comfortable with bold faced lies.

    August 8, 2014 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  7. Gurgyl

    --Iraq war is a big mess. Pres. Obama is timely to order Airstrike in violent places. GOP is a biggest nonsense for four decades, instead passing Jobs-Bill, raising Minimum wage, infrastructure, green energy–these idiots talk nonsense, bicker on President–shame.

    August 8, 2014 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  8. J Anthony

    No surprise here. Most of us see our government today for what it is: a giant protection racket for imperial plutocracy. They use our vast resources to consolidate power among the so-called "elite", while doing the minimum for the populace that funds it. The root of the problem is the usurious banking/monetary-system, the fulcrum on which all other systems turn. Too few of us understand this. I often wonder how long it will take before the American people stop acting like complacent sheep and band together to force the changes they claim they want. Voting for plutocrats who perpetuate the status quo, regardless which faction of the 2-party duopoly they are a part of, changes nothing. This should be obvious by now. While it's understandable that so many of our citizens have become completely discouraged and disengaged,, this is exactly what makes it so easy for plutocracy to thrive. We need better informed, more active citizen participation to actually be a true democratic republic.

    August 8, 2014 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  9. Angus

    It's because the administration is so open and transparent.

    August 8, 2014 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    people can SEE this regime is totally corrupt, and doing illegal activities. They are so out of control even the mindless can see it.

    August 8, 2014 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  11. jrt1098

    This "DISTRUST" in government has only deepened under this President ... in addition major brands such as CNN, MSNBC, the NY TIMES, and ALL of the nightly news broadcasts have been damaged in terms of their credibility. The most significant event of recent times may in fact be the loss of a "free and independent press" !

    It used to be a question ... was there Left Wing bias in the media ? Now, because they have become so invested in support of this administration ... it is no longer a question but a FACT ! An obvious example can be ... the media's slant towards Congress ... and completely ignoring the Senate, and Harry Reids abject failure !!!

    August 8, 2014 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Pres. Nixon had little choice but to resign in disgrace. Impeachment was a foregone conclusion. Republicans have had a hair out of place, trying to impeach a Democratic president ever since Nixon resigned.

    August 8, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  13. an Iowan

    Trust in our government is at an all time low because those who are in Congress are at an all time low!
    Our Congress is a joke, with Bozo the Clown (Boehner) at the helm!
    Not surprised that many don't remember Watergate or consider it serious (it was!).
    Look at how many Americans don't even remember the seriousness of GW Bush's offenses!

    August 8, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  14. nostalgicsound

    Kind of hard to trust with this president in office and the whack jobs in congress and senate.. Time to kick these bums out of office this November and re-elect other bums to take their place lol. The president has no pass on this either. He's been, IMO, a very narcissistic liar and arrogant pompous inneffective leader. And the bums in Congress are no better either.

    August 8, 2014 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  15. Name Rena Wolf

    Distrust in the government has nothing to do with watergate. That was "small potatoes" compared to situations in more recent times. Democrats would like to think that Nixon started the demise of honesty in government, it just ain't so. Ask around and only a few people can even cite what Watergate was about. Furthermore, no one cares. Egotistical Representatives and Senators are destroying the people's faith in government. Everyone seems to want to leave a "legacy". They are leaving a legacy of distrust and scams, and a "to hell with the people"

    August 8, 2014 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  16. Steve Kaplan

    As we are helping other country's with food and water, there are millions of Amarican children that are going to bed hungry! What happened to taking care of Americans first?

    August 8, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  17. Marty

    How can anyone trust a body( both Republican and Democrat) that continues to distort the truth to the people and places itself above the law and the people?

    August 8, 2014 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  18. J Anthony

    @Rick the Ignorant: every "regime" for the last century has engaged in illegal activities to one extent or another. Take your small-minded partisan whining somewhere else, or smarten up. It's time we rose above it.

    August 8, 2014 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  19. Tom l

    Let me help all of you out before they comment and I can save you a little time. If there is a comment from Sniffit, it will go like this and include the following:

    -GOP/Teattroll fault as they want to break govt
    -demographic Armageddon
    -browning of America
    -a possible divisive "red state takers" comment
    -bigoted, hatred and/or repubs are misogynists
    -Murika reference
    -an overall dems good repubs evil theme
    -a little long winded and a lot of twenty five cent words

    You may now proceed to the next comment

    August 8, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  20. guest

    at one time we felt our government was a watch dog for the american people especially against big business. It broke up monopolies, placed regulation against price gauging, fixing, regulations against destroying the landscapes of our country.

    It has been pretty much the opposite since 1980, the government has been working for big business, stripping regulations, making legislation protecting big businesses from start up competition, allowing giant corporation to force competition to sell to them. The government has been lowering the corporate taxes, opening loopholes, not taxing the major traders, allowing undocumented labor. Our government gave haliburton 3.5 trillion dollars worth of no bid contracts during the iraq war, and our on the tab deficit for the war was at least 3 trillion dollars. Basically president cheney awarded no bid contracts to the company he ran until he left to become vice president, awarded all the money the government had on hand, plus another 3 Trillion dollars.

    That same company, under cheney, went from 9 off shore tax havens in 1995 to more than 40 off shore tax havens by the year 2000, and then relocated their headquarters to dubai (the middle east) after getting 3.5 trillion dollars from our government (to avoid having to put any of the money they stole back into the government via taxes).

    This pretty much sums up why we dont trust the american government.

    August 8, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  21. Chipster

    I never knew that we were supposed to trust our government. Isn't it our responsibility to be vigilant, skeptical, maybe even a little suspicious. We elect the people we believe will do the best job for us but it's our responsibility to learn everything we can about the candidates and issues before we vote. That's more difficult today with so many politically motivated "entertainment news" outlets that spin the information for profit. But there are reliable fact checkers that help. How many voters bother to check the facts when they hear outlandish stories about a candidate? How many voters go to events to actually speak with the candidates? How many citizens speak with their elected officials when they visit their districts? GET INVOLVED. Don't just visit the ones you think you like Speak with all of them when they attend events. You can even make an appointment to discuss an issue with them. They work for or plan to work for YOU!

    August 8, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  22. Thor

    The US govt is as corrupt as Any Third World regime and even more so!!
    Obama has brought Crminal US Govt Direct Action to a new height.
    Along with selling out the US

    August 8, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  23. g

    the only thing republicans work on is giving away bombs and guns and bullets or war ,they will not sit down and talk about any thing else

    August 8, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  24. Boomer in Mo

    From the state level to the national level, they've all been bribed by big money; both parties. Why would we trust them?

    August 8, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  25. Mr

    What a surprise. We have a president that lies an a congress that can't get anything done and a senate run by morons.

    August 8, 2014 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
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