Is trust in goverment declining?

After the troublesome nature of the last few Howard years and systemic problems in several ALP state governments, these days public trust in government is a rare commodity.

In his quest to restore such trust, this year Faulkner not only intends to rewrite the Freedom of Information Act to free up government information, he has indicated that he also wants to change key elements of Australia’s electoral system. [emphasis added]

Ross Fitzgerald in this morning’s Australian.

Like Jamie Briggs, Fitzgerald is inferring public attitudes from his own perceptions. And like Jamie Briggs, he gets public opinion wrong. As with questions on satisfaction with democracy and the role of big interests, a series of questions on trust shows that it is improving rather than declining.

A question in the Australian Election Survey asks,

In general, do you feel that the people in government are too often interested in looking after themselves, or do you feel that they can be trusted to do the right thing nearly all the time?

From its low point of 9% in 1993, 15% of people in 2007 said that people in government can usually be trusted (equal with 1996 and 2004). ‘Sometimes be trusted’ is on 28%, the second highest result (after 1996) since this question started being asked in 1993. While in absolute terms these numbers show the usual cynicism about politicians in general, there is no evidence of decline. (And some of this seems to be just empty stereotyping, since individual politicians – even those relentlessly portrayed as untrustworthy like John Howard – do better in surveys on trustworthiness than politicians in general).
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