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Americans Say Civility Has Worsened Under Trump; Trust In Institutions Down

Fireworks explode over the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol on July 4, 2015.

As Americans prepare to celebrate the country's 241st birthday, they believe the overall tone and level of civility between Democrats and Republicans in the nation's capital has gotten worse since the election of President Trump last year, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds. The same survey also shows distrust of many of the nation's fundamental democratic institutions amongst the public.

Seven in 10 Americans say the level of civility in Washington has gotten worse since President Trump was elected, while just 6 percent say the overall tone has improved. Twenty percent say it's stayed the same. For comparison, 35 percent in 2009 said civility in the country had declined in the U.S. following President Obama's election, per a Gallup survey. Eight years ago, 21 percent of Americans in that poll thought civility and the tone of discourse in the country had improved.

There's also little difference in Americans' views on civility and the level of discourse across partisan lines. Just over eight in 10 Democrats say it's gotten worse since Trump was elected, while 70 percent of independents say the same thing. Sixty-five percent of Republicans say civility between the GOP and Democrats has declined since November, with just 12 percent saying it has improved.

"Searching for consensus in Washington?" asks Lee Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "There's strong consensus across the board that civility in Washington is on the outs."

And few people have a high level of trust in many of the institutions that are the backbone of American democracy. Only intelligence and law enforcement agencies like the CIA and the FBI engender much goodwill, with 60 percent saying they have some degree of trust in them.

Even as Trump has, at times, attacked the CIA along with the FBI investigation into his campaign aides' possible collusion with Russia during the election, 40 percent of Republicans say they have a good amount of trust in the intelligence community, with 19 percent saying they have a great deal of trust in them. Twenty-five percent of Republicans say they don't have very much trust in the intelligence community, with 11 percent saying they don't have any trust in them. Among Trump supporters, just over half still have trust in those groups, while 30 percent say they don't have very much trust in them, with 14 percent having no trust.

Americans still trust the judicial system too, with 6 in 10 also saying they have some degree of trust in the courts. A quarter of people say they don't have much trust in the court system, with 12 percent saying they don't have any trust at all.

But other institutions are viewed dismally by the public. A 46 percent plurality of Americans say they don't have very much trust in Congress, while 22 percent say they don't have any trust in the legislative branch; just 6 percent have a great deal of trust in Congress, while 23 percent say they have a good amount of trust in it. The body's unpopularity is fairly high across party lines, though Republicans (39 percent) are slightly more likely than Democrats (25 percent) to trust Congress.

How much Americans trust the Trump administration, the media and public opinion polls is deeply divided along partisan lines. Just 30 percent of all Americans have some degree of trust in the media, while a 37 percent plurality say they don't have any trust in the media. However, among Democrats, 56 percent say they trust the media, but only 9 percent of Republicans say they trust the press, while 59 percent say they don't trust it at all. Just over 1 in 4 independents say they trust the media, with 35 percent saying they don't trust the press at all and the same amount saying they don't trust the media very much.

There's similar distrust of public opinion polls, which just more than 6 in 10 Americans say, to some degree, they don't trust. Half of Democrats, however, say they do, while just 28 percent of Republicans say they trust surveys. Thirty-four percent of independents say they trust public opinion polls, while 63 percent either don't have much trust or any trust in them.

Just more than 6 in 10 Americans say they either don't have very much trust or any trust in the Trump administration, including, 69 percent of Democrats who say they don't trust the White House at all. Almost half of independents also say they don't trust the Trump administration. However, 47 percent of Republicans say they trust the White House a good amount, with 37 percent saying they trust the administration a great deal.

Compared to trust in the new administration, there's a reversal in opinion when it comes to which party trusts that U.S. elections are fair. Overall, Americans are split on that question, as are independent voters. But 72 percent of Republicans trust that they are, while just 42 percent of Democrats overall do.

And when it comes to the rights that Americans are afforded in the Constitution, there's a split along party lines over whether some of those rights have been encroached upon or have been expanded too much.

Majorities of Americans agree that freedom of religion is fine as things are, but slightly more Republicans and independents, when compared to Democrats, think it has been too restricted. Thirty-four percent of Trump supporters also think it's been restricted too much, though 49 percent think things are fine the way they are.

A slight majority (52 percent) also think the right to protest or criticize the government is fine as things are, though 41 percent of Republicans think it's been expanded too much, compared to just 7 percent of Democrats and 11 percent of independents who feel that way. A 48 percent plurality of Republicans think things are fine as they are when it comes to protesting or criticizing the government.

Forty-four percent of Democrats also think that the right to vote has been too restricted, while 49 percent think things are fine as they are now. However, 25 percent of Republicans think the right to vote has been expanded too much, while 66 percent think things are fine as they are now.

One of the biggest partisan gaps is over freedom of the press. A 46 percent plurality of Republicans think press freedoms are fine as they are now, but almost as many (42 percent) think that freedom of the press has been expanded too much. Forty-two percent of Trump supporters also think freedom of the press has been expanded too much. In comparison, 32 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents think freedom of the press has been restricted too much.


The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll surveyed 1,205 adults from June 21-25 contacted by live interviewers using a mix of landline and mobile numbers. There is a 2.8-percentage point margin of error. A sub-sample of 995 registered voters were also surveyed, with a 3.1-percentage point margin of error.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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