Monday, June 27, 2011

What's On Top And Why?

Americans continue to express greater confidence in the military than in 15 other national institutions, according to a just released Gallup Survey. Seventy-eight percent say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military — 11 points higher than its historical average. Coming in second and third were small business and the police. Congress ranks last.

Gallup’s survey does not interpret why the public responded as they did, so I will take a little poetic license and offer some of my insights. It seems logical to me that during military engagement, confidence in our military would top other institutions. The military evokes images of defense of democracy, courage, valor, risk, victory and action — all the virtues we stand for and support.

The #1 ranking is clear during war time, but what about non-war periods? Our military still appears to be at the top of the heap … most of the time. It was ranked number one by the American public from 1989 to 1996, with an 85 percent rating just after the end of the first Persian Gulf war. In 1997, when small business was added as a choice in the survey, it edged out the military by 63 percent to 60 percent. And the church or organized religion ranked #1 from 1973 through 1985 on the heels of the very unpopular Vietnam War, with the military surpassing the church for the first time in`86. Today the church ranks #4 in terms of public confidence.

The church stands for morality, God, and loving and doing right by one`s fellow man, also values that are among this nation`s pillars. Conceivably, the church’s drop in the rankings coincided with the revelations of sexual abuse by priests and attempts to cover-up the subsequent scandal.

Small business means entrepreneurialism, personal service, climbing the ladder of success, support for the little guy and the dark horse — fundamental American values that we champion. Small business remains up there in the rankings, compared to big business, which, unfortunately for all its merits, is near the bottom and no doubt reflects widespread perceptions of greed and callousness towards the little guy.

The military has ranked #1 since 1998. Clearly, the public regards defense as a critical priority. With terrorist threats ever present in the news, the fact that the police are ranked #3 also stands to reason. Congress’s position at the bottom is easily explained by the fact that our political parties are at loggerheads and slow to pass legislation. (There are probably a slew of other reasons, as well.)

Other notes of interest: there was a significant uptick in Americans` confidence in television news, from 22 percent to 27 percent (Is "truthiness" on the internet finally getting to us?) There was also a slight but not meaningful increase in confidence in newspapers, from 25 to 28 percent.

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