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This is How Young Americans Feel about the World

This is How Young Americans Feel about the World

The U.S.’s twenty-somethings are living up to their jaded reputation: new data shows that most Americans aged 18-29 do not trust the government. Harvard University’s annual poll of thousands of younger Americans finds that only 39% trust the President and 18% trust Congress.

Furthermore, because Harvard conducts the poll each year, researchers are able to chart the growing disillusionment. For the most part, trust in the government amongst 20-year-olds has been steadily declining with each passing year.

In addition to the President and Congress’s low scores, the Supreme Court receives only a 40% vote of confidence, while the United Nations nabs just 34%. When it comes to the levels of the government, young adults’ collective faith shrinks as the positions get higher: 34% of Americans in their 20s believe that the local government “does the right thing”¯ most of the time, but that number drops to 30% and 22% for the state and federal government respectively.

Young adults don’t save all of their disenchantment for the government, however. In fact, two entities polled even lower than Congress. Wall Street has the trust of just 12% of 18-29 year olds. While it’s not quite 99%, the fact that 88% have Wall Street skepticism shows that Occupy’s message resonates with this generation. Lower still is trust for the media: only 11% of citizens in this demographic have faith for this institution. Corporations may be increasing their stranglehold on mass media, but that doesn’t mean young people are falling for it.

On the one hand, the mounting distrust for the country is disheartening. On the other hand, who can blame the twenty-somethings? They’re looking at our ineffective institutions with a justifiably critical eye.

The real question is: what repercussions will this lack of trust yield? One likelihood is a lack of participation moving forward. With 28% of the poll’s respondents agreeing that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results¯” and 56% saying that “elected officials don’t have the same priorities I have,” it’s not hard to imagine this generation largely giving up on the political process.

If this distrust turns into inaction, that’s a dangerous prospect. However, it’s difficult to determine from these stats whether America’s young adults feel disempowered or empowered by their shared disdain of the system. When confronted with the statement, “Politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing,”¯ only 16% disagreed.

That leaves a vast majority of younger people – a group poised to become the dominant generation in another decade – that could be motivated to make meaningful reform (if not outright revolution) to a political system that most consider broken and untrustworthy.

In that sense, this collective cynicism might actually give us reason to hope. If we can’t have faith in our government, Wall Street and media to “do the right thing,” perhaps we can put our trust in a generation that has increasingly become aware of the corrupt system and may work to right those wrongs.


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9:46AM PDT on Jul 7, 2013

we got stuck with a world turned inside out, and no, we don't trust the government. As of yet they have given us little reason to "trust them"...

4:22PM PDT on May 14, 2013


3:58AM PDT on May 12, 2013


9:34AM PDT on May 11, 2013

hmmmm seems like a situation ripe for plucking by radical religion

5:11PM PDT on May 10, 2013

Looking at the environment and the economy and the way the government is handling foreign affairs... well, yeah. But people of my age group shouldn't just be sitting around complaining either. We're going to have to work to change the situation we've inherited or things will just be worse by the time our children are grown up. This will require looking carefully at who we're putting into office and not just voting for the party our friends support. This will require new laws to be passed and ineffective or injust policies to be reformed. Entire ways of life may need to be reevaluated. We'll have to take our heads out of our iPhones and look at the world around us. But the question is, can we agree to put forth the effort to do all of this? Or will there be too many people who want to watch the world burn?

9:14PM PDT on May 9, 2013

And why *should* they trust government or Wall Street or corporations? Anyone with half a brain can see that most of them aren't trustworthy.

10:25AM PDT on May 9, 2013

Thank you! I'm with the young crowd.

7:05AM PDT on May 9, 2013 of the things I find embarrassing about my country is the ignorant, untraveled citizens who smugly believe that WE are the BEST nation in the world and WE don't need to travel to learn about anyone else! You'll see that attitude reflected in the posts of many here at Care2, who think that signing a petition from the US is all it takes to change other cultures, dietary and economic practices.

Unfortunately, it's not just a small segment of Americans! We had a terrible president a few years back who announced this to the world....he'd never traveled. (He also stole an election but that's another story.)

Anyway, I wish it were possible to require every high-school student to spend a year abroad, traveling through other countries and actually learning something about the world.

4:41AM PDT on May 9, 2013

When did the USA become the World,even the Norwegian Vikings knew that there was other parts of the World.

11:57AM PDT on May 8, 2013

That;s what I see...disinterest and inaction. Where is the outrage?? Where is the dissent? We just take it and are told to like it.

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