Key to a Strong Democracy: Trust

One of the principal ingredients of democracy is trust, something that is declining at the national level, but relatively healthy at the local level. At the same time, trust in local government varies by community, types of residents and government function, which is why we work every day to help build stronger relationships among residents and local government.

The latest survey on trust from Gallup, from September 2023, shows that, while only 37% trust the federal government to “handle domestic problems,” 67% of the public trust local government either “a fair amount” or “a great deal.” This is roughly the same as levels measured by Gallup 50 years ago, with an average trust level of 70% since 1972. Pew Research and others have shown similar results.

Certainly, levels of trust vary among different aspects of local government, e.g., elected officials vs. parks employees, and among ethnicities and ages. A Pew Research Center study shows, for example, that, while 32% of white adults have a “great deal of confidence” in police, this is true for only 10% of Black adults.

Since 1894, the National Civic League has worked to improve and maintain the trustworthiness of local government, working with other organizations to create the city manager form of government with nonpartisan elected officials and setting standards and goals for local government. Our Model City Charter, Civic Index and All-America Cities programs all provide guidance in how local governments can be more effective, equitable and inclusive.

More recently, our Center for Democracy Innovation has developed tools for building trust and effectiveness, including the Better Public Meetings program, Civic Engagement Scorecard and Civic Infrastructure Scan.

Please let us know how we can help your community solve problems, improve equity and build the kind of trust that engages everyone in establishing a better quality of life for all residents.

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