Mainers have little confidence in most major institutions, including Congress, the presidency, organized religion, the criminal justice system, banks and the news media, but they do have faith – relatively speaking – in police and the military.

A Portland Press Herald poll of 593 people conducted between Sept. 15-20 found that respondents had the lowest confidence in Congress, with just 10 percent saying they had either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence.

But they were equally skeptical of the media, particularly television news, which also saw just 10 percent of people saying they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence. Newspapers were not far behind, with just 22 percent of respondents in the poll saying they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence.

Banks and the criminal justice system were viewed unfavorably as well, with just 24 and 25 percent, respectively, saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the poll, said he wasn’t surprised by the results and said the collective lack of trust in most institutions helps explain the dynamics of the presidential race.

“I think it certainly helps the person that has billed himself as an outsider and that’s Donald Trump,” said Smith, referring to the real estate developer turned Republican nominee. “If people are frustrated with all these different institutions, they are certainly going to be more who are willing to give him a chance.”


The Press Herald poll questions on voter confidence mirror questions that Gallup has been asking for decades. In most cases, the views of Mainers reflected the national mood, although those polled in Maine had far less confidence in religion and TV news, but slightly more confidence in police and the Supreme Court.

Among the 10 American institutions the Press Herald asked about, only the military and police had more than 50 percent of respondents say they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence.

Nearly three-quarters of those polled said they had confidence in the military, including 50 percent who said that had a great deal of confidence. Roughly 62 percent said they had either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in police.

Michael Franz, an associate professor of government at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, said confidence seems to have been falling for years and he wonders if it has plateaued.

“We really don’t have anywhere to go but up. The question is how will we get there and how long will that take?” he said. “Will it be a generational slog through this or will we be get stuck in these patterns until something slaps us in the face?”

The confidence, or lack thereof, among poll respondents wasn’t limited to those who identify with a particular political party, but there was some disparity.


Republicans, for example, were much less likely to have confidence in the media, especially newspapers, but were more likely to say they trusted the military, police and organized religion.

Democrats were more likely to have confidence in the Supreme Court, in the presidency and the media, and were more skeptical of organized religion, banks and the criminal justice system.

Franz said the lack of trust in the media as a whole has created echo chambers and has led to polarization.

“If people don’t trust the media, they rely on their partisan homes to reinforce partisan news and that feeds back in to a decline in confidence,” he said.

The percentage of people polled by the Press Herald who had confidence in TV news was the same as the national number, according to Gallup. But Mainers were more than twice as likely to say they had confidence in newspapers.

Confidence in media has never been high historically, but there are so many more partisan news organizations now that feed into consumers’ world views.


William McNiff, a 74-year-old retired federal government employee who lives in Damariscotta, said his confidence is lowest in banks and in the media. He said media coverage, for better or worse, drives most opinions, and said most organizations are appealing to the lowest common denominator.

“I think everything is so publicized and covered to death that people get annoyed,” he said. “But it also alters reality. Statistics show that crime is significantly down but people watching the news every day will say it’s way up.”

Hannah Enoch, 23, a stay-at-home mother from Bath, said she is among those who has confidence in the military and police but not in other institutions such as the media, especially TV news, where she gets most of her information.

“Everything is just so negative all the time,” she said. “It’s hard to have confidence in that.”

According to Gallup, confidence has been dropping in nearly all institutions, except the military and police, for decades. As recently as 2001, for instance, confidence in organized religion topped 60 percent. Now, it’s 41 percent. Similarly, 36 percent of those polled in 2001 had great confidence in newspapers. Today, it’s 20 percent. Banks, the Supreme Court, Congress and the presidency all have seen confidence erode.

Mainers had more confidence in police, but this state has not seen any high-profile police shootings that have plagued other states and have contributed to an erosion of trust in public safety institutions.

Far fewer Mainers have confidence in organized religion than the country as a whole, but that makes sense because Maine consistently ranks among the most secular states.

Franz said despite the low confidence in most institutions, he doesn’t think it means people are thirsty for radically changing democracy.

“Our system falls apart if we don’t believe in it anymore,” he said. “But I don’t think people want to get rid of any of these institutions. They just want them to be better.”

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