While this may not come as a surprise to many Americans out there, there is a huge gap in trust among Americans says a new AP poll. The comfort in trusting one’s fellow citizen has declined to about one-third since Americans were asked about their level of trust over forty years ago, when about half of Americans said that they felt they could trust other people. The record high indicates that most Americans believe “you can’t be too careful” when “dealing with people.”
According to an AP-GfK poll released last month, a majority of Americans were found to be suspicious of each other in everyday encounters, with less than a third saying they trust people they not only have to deal with on a daily basis, but may have to depend upon- street vendors, drivers, etc.
The decline in relative trust among citizens revealed by AP’s poll has worried political scientists and sociologists, who see the strings of the social fabric coming undone. Observers say society’s mistrust of itself has in many way leaked over into our political system, with people less willing to compromise or make deals for the common good, out of fear of placing their trust in another individual.
“When trust is low, the way we react and behave with each other becomes less civil.” says April K. Clark, a Purdue University Political Scientist, public opinion researcher and poll analyst.
According to political scientists, trust “appears to promote economic growth,” while distrust “encourages corruption.” In other ways though mistrust can be a healthy thing- accountants tend to count their change twice and resort to lengthy binding contracts to ensure impliability.
Studies have shown the trend in America’s distrust is unlikely to decline. Most researchers have found that the “basis for a person’s lifetime trust levels” is solidified by the time that that person reaches their mid-twenties.
But is all hope lost? Or for that matter, trust? Observers say there may be ways to unite the next generation in trusting one another in ways the older generations used to.
Oddly enough, there are those in this generation who continue to trust others without cause for suspicion. Dennis Hess, a Pennsylvania farmer, runs an unmanned farm stand on the side of the road. Much like a vending machine without the lock, consumers can choose their produce, write up their own receipt, and drop money into a slot.
While Dennis Hess may stand out as the exception to the rule, increasingly people are more likely to keep to themselves and be weary of the world around them. Observers say that this upcoming generation is a gamble because while there are unifying aspects to their upbringing, most namely high tech gadgets, those high tech gadgets might work to produce the opposite effect, isolating people in a virtual world where social skills and trust are not only unnecessary, but essentially discouraged by the norms of the internet.
The only way out of this mess is to hope that some event- hopefully peaceful and unifying in nature- can bring together a jaded nation of paranoid individuals. Unfortunately for mankind, the opposite, war with common enemies, proves to be the single most uniting cause in history. Hopefully the next generation will find the gap in trust detailed in this new poll easier to bridge and will be able to themselves not so distant from one another via their connection with social media and their high tech gadgets.
by John Amaruso