A new Pew poll on how people think about politics and politicians is filled with not-so-positive nuggets. More than six in 10 say that “significant changes” are necessary in American government. Just one in three have a favorable opinion of the federal government. And so on and so forth.
But, amidst all that bad, one number really stood out to me: 3.
That’s the percentage of people in the Pew poll who say they have a “great deal” of confidence in elected officials to act in the public’s best interest.
Meanwhile, 52% have “not too much,” and 23% have no confidence at all in elected officials looking out for their best interests. Oomph.
Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat or neither, that number is absolutely awful. It speaks not only to the negative view most Americans have for politicians but also the gulf between what they think is right and what they think politicians care about.
(Sidebar: This lack of trust in institutions to look out for the average person is widespread. Just 5% think business leaders act in the public’s best interest while 8% say the media looks out for their best interests and 9% say the same of religious leaders. Overall, depressing figures.)
That massive disconnect between people and the politicians who represent them is what led to President Donald Trump. Trump tapped into the public’s resentment that politicians not only didn’t listen to them but actively didn’t care what they thought. He cast himself as the voice of the “forgotten” man and woman.
But capitalizing on that sense of alienation from your elected officials for political purposes is very different than working to bridge that gap. And, so far in office, Trump has chosen to exacerbate the differences people feel between themselves and their elected officials rather than mitigate them.
Which may be good politics. But makes for a very unhealthy democracy.
The Point: Numbers like these should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who cares about our political institutions. No institution can continue to exist, grow and prosper when just 3% of its constituents believe it has their best interest at heart.