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.