Just one-third of Americans say most of their fellow citizens can be trusted today, compared with half of the population in 1972, the General Social Survey found.

Another poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of one another in everyday interactions. Less than one-third expressed an abundance of trust in “clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling,” The Associated Press wrote.

Bart Murawski, 27, of Albany, N.Y. is quoted as saying, “I’m leery of everybody. … Caution is always a factor.”

Concerned political and social scientists say what we all know intuitively: “Social trust” brings good things, and the downward trend matters greatly. Those things include a society in which it’s easier to make deals or find compromises in conflicts, to work with people who are different from one for the sake of the common good, and to promote broad economic well-being. Indeed, the decline correlates with the country’s widening inequality and diminishing overall economic health and stability.

The AP writes:

Distrust, on the other hand, seems to encourage corruption. At the least, it diverts energy to counting change, drawing up 100-page legal contracts and building gated communities.

Even the rancor and gridlock in politics might stem from the effects of an increasingly distrustful citizenry, said April K. Clark, a Purdue University political scientist and public opinion researcher.

“It’s like the rules of the game,” Clark said. “When trust is low, the way we react and behave with each other becomes less civil.”

Some studies suggest it’s too late for the majority of Americans living today to become more trusting. Those reports say a person’s ability to trust is set by their mid-20s and is unlikely to change.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig