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. Ol' Yeller

    "But compared to today scandal. President Richard Nixon looks like a saint."
    "Nixon was a saint compared to the lawless tyrant Obama."
    "The Obama administration hides and obfuscates any attempt at oversight and a majority of the press is compliant."

    Gosh... who woke the koolaid drinkers up this morning?
    Nixon a 'saint'? Obama a lawless tyrant?
    Now I've seen some head injuries cause some serious cognitive disorders, but these folks talk like they have no heads and on top of that they have mixing dangerous amounts of alcohol on top of their Xanax prescription (and their neighbor's oxycontin pills that 'somehow came up missing')

    August 8, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  2. rs

    The Republicans no doubt consider this success. They have aggressively promoted not only distrust of a sitting elected President of the United States; they have also reduced the legislative functions of the House and Senate to a bad joke. Add to that their attempts to stifle voters, diminish civil rights (of all types), and toss a government shutdown, and the efforts of foreign-owned FOX News-

    August 8, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  3. guest

    3.5 trillion dollars in no bid contracts to the company lead by the vice president, leading to 3+ trillion dollars going on the deficit , while simultaneously cutting regulations for wall street leading to the stock market being cut to the bone draining mainly mutual funds that are retirement savings, while also making it easier for these companies to then relocate outside of the USA to avoid taxes while also making it easier to set up seperate tax havens to also help avoid taxes tends to shake one's confidence in the government.

    The fact that they have a propaganda machine convincing people otherwise makes it all the more scary. America is more than its multi-national (though born in america) corporations.

    August 8, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. anne

    The reason that confidence in oivernment is at its lowest it partially due to 24 hours news like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc. Some of what they report is actually news–much more is conjecture, sensationalism and musings which have little basis in fact. The news has changed from bringing informed facts to the public to bringing doubt, anger and resentment by manipulation and desperation for ratings.

    August 8, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  5. Jack

    As a conservative for over 50 years, I put almost all the fault on the Tea Party Republicans, Mitch McConnell's, Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich. Their arrogant has been beyond reason in almost ever area. That is why I voted democratic in 2012 and will continue to until the Republicans jettison both the tea partiers and the religious right. This President hasn't done anything that any other previous President hasn't done both Republican and Democrat!

    August 8, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  6. rs

    Uncle Rufus

    Nixon was a saint compared to the lawless tyrant Obama.
    Throw that racist cherry (your blog post handle) on top to prove your point. And your point, BTW is silly- Nixon actually did have an "enemies List" that the FBI and the IRS ACTUALLY worked from to harass those who tried to reveal Nixon for what he was. Never mind all of the other material. See, believing Right-wing fairy tales is a great way to ignore the truth.

    August 8, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  7. rs


    All governments are evil. The longer they exist, the more evil they are. The US government has existed a long, long time.
    Nonsense! We make our government. Don't like it? Don't vote the clowns in- otherwise you wind up repeating faux "revolutionary", pro-violence propaganda.

    August 8, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  8. 10ACUS1

    And yet, the incumbents continue to get returned to office, with pathetic turnout in the primaries. Stupid isn't a strong enough word for it.

    August 8, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  9. octoslash

    We get the government we deserve. Reading this thread, I'm amazed we don't have a senate and house chamber full of baboons swinging from the chandeliers.

    August 8, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  10. Dude Hans

    This is what happens when you take over 1/5th of the economy, pass a health care law that affects 100% of the population, and have no support from the people. In fact, a very liberal state elected a Republican senator to block this (Scott Brown) and Obama shoved it through, despite support from around only 1/3rd of the people. Never before had a president passed a major entitlement without at least some support from Republicans or Democrats. It was policy rape, and the law, being as bad as it is, is why America, and American presidents in the past haven't done what Obama did in passing that law. He destroyed his presidency in the process, and ensured that Republicans wouldn't work with him on anything after that.

    August 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  11. Eagle0841

    Lack of leadership is the cause. The fish rots from the head. True in the past, true now. Many Presidents had an opposing Congress, led and got things done. They did not blame, deflect and defame. Obama never even ran a convenience store and it shows. If the press did not go out of their way to protect his incompetence he would poll in the low 20's.

    August 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  12. Eugene

    It's because on one side you have the bleedhearts who think half of one's disposable income should go to government benefits despite already high costs of living and on the other you have social conservatives who adhere to outdated ideas. All of this muddled by lobbyists, a complicated tax system, and a government that no one understands.

    It's very difficult to feel optimistic under current circumstances.

    August 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. Eugene


    Sounds good to me. I'm 27 and paying into a system that is 99.9% likely not to benefit me. I suppose I consider it the "bloated baby boomer" tax.

    August 8, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. Rudy NYC

    "Makes you wonder whether we should invent a word or phrase for people who are essentially analogous to economic Uncle Toms with respect to our would-be plutocrat masters of the universe overlords. Hmmmm..."scab" is already taken in another context, but it's the closest one I can think of at the we'll have to be creative."
    How about "thralls"?

    August 8, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  15. djs1138

    I think this article is focusing on the wrong president if they're trying to explain why virtually no one trusts our current government... and the distrust starts at the top...

    August 8, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  16. Tom Boston

    DEMOCRATS are a disaster for the country .... should all be arrested and tried for treason. They are our real enemy.

    August 8, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  17. Bill H

    Every day I get up and pray that an asteroid has hit Washington D.C. and exterminated every part of the Federal government. Free at last, free at last, free at last

    August 8, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  18. Waitaminute

    We can not be expected to follow the law when a President does not. I foresee many will not comply with Ocare or any other idiotic laws that exit out of DC's orifice.

    August 8, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  19. joe

    This is what happens when you have a media that does not take our leaders to task when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Look at all that has happened: Obamacare a disaster, Benghazi a tragedy of leadership, IRS criminal acts being covered up, Open borders exposing the country to a major terrorist act since we do not know who and how many come into the country, should I go on?

    August 8, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  20. Packard Day

    "Trust in Government at an all time low?" How could such a thing possibly occur?

    [e.g. Eric Holder, James Clapper, Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett, John Kerry, Chuck Hagle, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Lois Lerner, the IRS, the VA, the State Department, HHS, Homeland Security, the NSA, The Secret Service, the CIA, the EPA, the CDC, SEC, etc.]

    If there is a single department in the entire federal government run by the Obama Administration that is actually working or otherwise free of gross incompetency and/or corruption; I wish someone (anyone) would name it.

    August 8, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  21. Andrew

    Sad to see that the Obama Administration's corrupt actions are actually mending Nixon's image. The expected standards in our President have fallen.

    August 8, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  22. Eugene

    On one side you have the gimmie class that believe all of their problems are everyone else's financial responsibility and that the general expectation is for us to devote 50% of our disposable income into poorly managed government benefits. On the other, you have social conservatives who adhere to outdated ways of life.

    This on top of our complicated tax system that benefits those who have access to lawyers (capital) and screws everyone else.

    It's tough to be optimistic.

    August 8, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  23. Tommy

    Integrity comes from the top, and we have been lacking integrity with Obama and his administration from the start: If you like your health care plan you can keep it; Benghazzi was the result of a video; there isn't a smidgen of corruption in the IRS / Tea Party investigation; on and on. But then again, "what difference does it make?"

    August 8, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  24. Durazac

    Blame the Supreme court, blame the Republicans, Blame this blame that..... on and on from day one.

    Obama is the President, Democrats have the Senate and had 2 years of the whole shebang to start the last 6 years.
    NOW is when everyone agrees that our Government is the worst it's been in memory. Least trustworthy, least fair, watching your every move as the KGB would.

    Yet there is a rush to blame, blame, blame those from long ago and in no position to control anything.

    The data speaks – but hatred for republicans blinds you to the information laid bare. Groupthink will insure that 1 year from now there is even less trust and more hatred.... The liberal gift to the Millennials.

    August 8, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  25. Bob Carson

    This time, we have an arrogant pot smoking community organizer for president. He has no qualifications to be president. He detests real Americans and is dedicated to the destruction of the traditions and way of life that made our country great. I blame Obama less than I blame the idiots that elected him two times.

    August 8, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
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