Flipping through the March 2013 AARP Bulletin, I was struck by a sidebar entitled “Whom Do You Trust?” That led me to the check out a more detailed survey on the group’s website.

From AARP.org. Click to enlargeThe national poll, done in conjunction with the research firm SSRS, asked persons younger than 50 and 50-plus whether they could trust a variety of potential people “a great deal.”

One thing the survey revealed is that older Americans tend to be more trusting than younger Americans.

Another thing is that hardly anyone trusts strangers, used car salesmen, or corporate CEOs, all of whom were in the 2-3 percent range. Politicians fared a little better, though only 11 percent  of younger adults and 12 percent of older adults trust members of congress. Mayors fared slightly better (13 and 21 percent), while 31 percent of sub-50’s and 34 percent of 50+ adults said they trusted the president.

Religious leaders (49 and 57 percent) were higher on the scale, but still at a disappointing level. Doctors gained a little more trust, at 56 and 68 percent for younger and older adults.

Who was considered most trustworthy? The highest trust levels — thankfully — were for one’s spouse (89 and 92 percent), followed by one’s best friend (79 and 81 percent). That’s encouraging, though one has to worry about the roughly 10 percent of marriages in which people can’t trust their partners.

I found it particularly discouraging (since I do some reporting) that trust levels for newspaper reporters were near the bottom (6 and 7 percent). Local TV reporters, perhaps because viewers connect more with them, scored slightly better, at 9 and 12 percent. This is disturbing to me because I know legitimate news organizations work very hard to report the truth and get their facts straight. I suspect the results are colored in part by the many faux “news” sources that have social or political agendas and actively sow distrust of the mainstream media.

Age played an interesting role in a couple of areas. Younger adults trust their in-laws more than older adults: 76 percent vs. 58 percent, but older adults trust their neighbors more, at 50 percent vs. 27 percent. I guess familiarity can work both ways.

In general, we’re not a very trusting bunch. Neither lawyers (31 and 38 percent), judges (22 and 20 percent), or police officers (40 and 48 percent) get the level of trust one would consider ideal. Even school teachers garnered only a 37 and 35 percent rating. What’s up with that?

All of this left me wondering why our nation is so distrusting. Have we been betrayed so often, by so many categories of people, that we’re no longer willing to trust anyone outside of our closest circle of companions — and not always them?

The bigger question, though, may not be about whom we can trust — but whether we ourselves are trustworthy. If someone did a survey of people who either know us or know about us, how would we rank?



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