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Since 2018, Republicans have lost confidence in U.S. institutions

And Amazon is no longer one of America’s most beloved institutions, our research finds.

- December 29, 2022

In June and July 2018, we launched a U.S. survey that asked 5,400 Americans how much confidence they had in a series of national institutions, called the American Institutional Confidence (AIC) Poll. These included political, social and business institutions. The survey asked about some institutions specifically (i.e., the “FBI”) and others in more general terms (i.e., “major companies”). We included several major technology firms (Facebook/Meta, Amazon, and Google/Alphabet) alongside the other institutions.

With these questions, we collected detailed demographic and background data on respondents that allowed us to weight their responses toward approximating U.S. adults nationwide on age, gender, education, region, party identification and income level, as estimated by the census. Respondents were part of YouGov’s opt-in survey panel.

In August and October 2021, we returned with a follow-up survey. We were able to reinterview nearly 2,400 of our original respondents, and add an additional 1,700 participants through YouGov.

We had several major takeaways from our 2018 survey. As other national surveys had found, Democrats were more confident in some institutions and Republicans in others. Americans across the political spectrum agreed about whether still other institutions did or did not deserve their confidence.

Specifically, Democrats were more likely to think highly of the news media, colleges and universities, the FBI, organized labor and the tech company Google. Republicans were more likely to respect local police, the U.S. executive branch, religion, banks, and major companies.

Meanwhile, Americans across the political spectrum agreed that they trusted the military, nonprofit organizations and Amazon, and that they distrusted Congress, political parties, and Facebook.

We found two crucial changes in our 2021 results: Republicans are losing confidence in everything, and everyone is losing confidence in “big tech.”

Republican lost confidence in U.S. institutions across the board

First, since 2018, Republicans’ confidence in American institutions has dropped across the board, with no similar trend among Democrats. The figure below compares responses to confidence questions among Republicans in 2021 vs. 2018 (results shown are averages of the 4 response options, coded 1-4).

Figure: Sean Kates
Data: American Institutional Confidence Poll (https://www.aicpoll.org/)
Figure: Sean Kates
Data: American Institutional Confidence Poll (https://www.aicpoll.org/)

Republicans lost confidence in every institution that we asked about except one: the local police, in which their confidence was slightly higher. That may have been because the Black Lives Matter movement, generally backed by liberals, criticized police brutality, while conservatives made a point of “backing the blue.” Yet even this increase is very small. In contrast, Republicans’ declines in confidence were often large, especially toward Amazon, Google, Facebook (even from a low 2018 baseline), and Congress. They also lost a significant amount of confidence in the military, major companies, colleges and universities, and the press.

The Republican loss of confidence in the executive branch and Congress could be seen as a normal consequence of the fact that Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in 2019 and the White House and Senate in 2021. But election results wouldn’t normally prompt such a loss of confidence in so many other institutions.

Democrats didn’t similarly lose faith in U.S. institutions

We didn’t find any similar across-the-board decline in Democrats’ confidence in institutions, as you can see in the figure below. Democrats did respond to their party’s 2018 and 2020 election gains by gaining much more confidence in the executive branch and Congress.

Figure: Sean Kates
Data: American Institutional Confidence Poll (https://www.aicpoll.org/)
Figure: Sean Kates
Data: American Institutional Confidence Poll (https://www.aicpoll.org/)

Democrats were less confident in the technology companies we asked about. Amazon dropped from Democrats’ most popular institution to the middle of the pack. They lost confidence in Google and Facebook, as well. And Democrats lost confidence in organized religion, dropping it to the second-least popular among them.

Beyond that, Democrats’ confidence in other political and social institutions hardly changed, in contrast to Republicans’ widespread drop in confidence.

Americans are turning on technology companies

Second, we found that Americans have lost confidence in major tech companies, especially when compared with other institutions. While Facebook was fairly unpopular in 2018, Amazon and Google were quite popular — the second- and third-most popular institutions among Americans overall, trailing only the military. Some pundits speculated about why — maybe because Amazon delivers a tangible product at a low price, while Facebook’s goods are much less tangible, or because Facebook was widely seen as spreading misinformation? Some even cautioned politicians not to cross companies like Amazon.

Figure: Sean Kates
Data: American Institutional Confidence Poll (https://www.aicpoll.org/)
Figure: Sean Kates
Data: American Institutional Confidence Poll (https://www.aicpoll.org/)

Something has changed. Amazon is now much less popular with Americans generally — the fifth-most popular institution overall, after local government, nonprofits, local police, and the military. Google has dropped from the fourth- to the tenth-most popular institution. Facebook got even less popular, falling behind even political parties and Congress, dropping from the third-least popular institution to rock bottom.

While the AIC Poll asked about only three large tech companies, the shift does suggest that something has happened to the popularity of major tech companies since 2018. Confidence in all three declined substantially; the trend is similar across different types of tech companies; and Democrats and Republicans responded similarly.

A worrying trend

Overall, Americans have lost confidence in their national institutions since 2018. The second half of the Trump presidency and beginning of Biden’s term seem to have taken a toll on Republicans’ confidence in U.S. institutions across the board. Democrats and Republicans’ confidence in institutions have diverged beyond what we might expect from the Democrats taking control of Congress and the presidency. Much of U.S. democracy relies on bipartisan support for norms and institutions. Large shifts like this deserve ongoing scrutiny.

Jonathan Ladd is an associate professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy and the department of government at Georgetown University.

Sean Kates is the associate director of programs in data analytics at the University of Pennsylvania and a core instructor at the Fels Institute of Government.

Funding for the American Institutional Confidence Poll was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at New York University, and by the Baker Trust, the Massive Data Institute and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.