UT survey shows increased distrust of federal government among Americans, Texans

Tehreem Shahab

Americans and Texans alike have become more distrustful of the federal government since 2016, according to a Texas Media and Society Survey conducted by the Moody College of Communication’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life.

According to the survey, which was conducted last May and June and then published last week, 49 percent of Americans and 47 percent of Texans said they can “hardly ever” or “never” trust the federal government to do what is right, compared to 2016 when 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively, voice that same mistrust. Jay Jennings, postdoctoral fellow at the Strauss Institute, said this change is expected with a new administration. 

“Each party will kind of shift their trust, so there are some things you would expect in the normal range,” Jennings said. “What is kind of interesting is that trust levels overall have gone down a little bit. You do see the counterbalancing between the parties, but the overall levels have decreased a little bit.” 

Government junior Kate Ferguson said political scandals lead to distrust, referring to Monday indictments brought against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his colleague Rick Gates for money laundering and conspiracy against the United States.

“I think sometimes the general public … gives the government the benefit of the doubt and says, ‘No, these conspiracy theories are not real,’” Ferguson said. “But now these federal indictments are being brought against these people … I think that the fears and distrust of the public are being reinforced. They are rooted in these sort of ‘conspiracy theories,’ but then these theories aren’t just theories — they are facts.” 

The survey also found that 70 percent of Texans and 69 percent of Americans come across news online they think is “completely made up.” At the same time, the percentage of Americans and Texans who fact-check the news they get has increased since 2016.

Strauss Institute director Susan Nold said it is important to be critical consumers of information and news.

“In previous generations, we would attribute a certain value to news because it had gone through a process of verification,” Nold said. “On the internet, I don’t know if that process is happening many times in the same way. In fact, it may be intentionally put in our news feeds by someone with a strong point of view … So, it’s just important we try to look at these things with a much more critical lens.”