By Joseph Cooper
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Extra resources for Congress and the Decline of Public Trust
In explaining the reasons for distrust itz Congress and its increase in recent decades, Hibbing discounts the importance of factors others believe to be of substantial significance. We argues, for example, that neither improved media coverage nor an absence of scandal would significantly improve the situation. Rather, he sees the primary catlse of distrust in Congress to be that Americans do not understand or like democracy. His argument, amply supported by interview data, is that the American people do not like conflict in any area of life and reject it as ;a facet of politics as well.
Ft seems rather to be accompanied by heightened public apathy, laced with intermittent flare-tips of public anger and wavering efforts to change existing institrrtional arrangements in a very targeted set of areas-legislative tenrzre, campaign funding, and budgetary spending. The primary result of distrust thus ab)b)ears not tcz be intense and widespread public support for basic institutionaii change in any direction, but rather lowered expectations on the part of the public with respect to the realism of the traditional values and beliefs of representative goErnment and the wisdom of depending on gcmrnment tcz solve problems that threaten or distress the lives of ordinary citizens.
Answers to these qrzestions are complicated not only by the complexity of the relatic>nshtysbetween causal determinants within the pc~liticalsystem and bemeen the political system and the broader society but also by the variegated character of public trust itself. From the polling data alone we can sense that trust is not a tlnidimensional entity, but rather a lavred one, consisting of different farms or types of trust at different levels of governance. As suggested earlier, belief in the basic legitimacy of the political system, in the representativencss and integrity of goxrnmental decisionmaking units and officials, and in the ability of government to devise and implement policy programs that satis@ citizen demands are all components of p~zblictrust.