“Do You Trust Me?”

[field date] | Letters

Author: Dr. Jeffrey S. Young, Assistant Professor, Agribusiness Economics, Murray State University

In mid-December 2021 I was able to partner with Consumer Corner collaborators Nicole Olynk Widmar and Courtney Bir on a nationally representative survey of U.S. households where I included some timely (and dare I say … provocative) questions about public trust. This week, we’re going to dig a little deeper into one of the survey questions I had on my mind — confidence in some of the “big” systems we have in place.

Trust is a big deal in everything we do, whether it’s trust in science and public health measures during a pandemic, trust in fellow citizens, or trust in the public systems in which we live, work, and sustain ourselves. Consumers under duress turn to those they trust to assist with necessary goods or services. Citizens under duress rely on governmental systems in place … but how much do they actually trust them today?

Figure 1 shows the average from the survey question, “on a scale from 1 (no confidence) to 7 (total confidence), score your view of the stability and sustainability of the following institutions” for the nation. Generally speaking, the majority view the U.S. military’s stability and sustainability very positively, while the opposite is true for the federal government.

Figure 1. Average Confidence in a Given U.S. System (out of a maximum possible score of 7, on a scale of 1 (no confidence) to 7 (total confidence)).

Alternatively, we can look for the proportion of the population that scored a system 5 or higher. That is, what percent of the U.S. has a positive view of a given institution or establishment? Figure 2 may shed some light.

Figure 2. Proportion of Respondents with a Positive (scored 5 or higher) Opinion of a Given U.S. System.

Naturally, my brain goes to geography. This is for the U.S. as a whole, but does opinion differ very meaningfully by region? We have four regions in the survey: the Northeast (CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT), the South (AL, AR, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV), the Midwest (IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI), and the West (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY).

So, what does happen geographically? Is there spatial heterogeneity in peoples’ confidence in these various systems? The patterns are displayed in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Proportion of Respondents with a Positive (scored 5 or higher) Opinion of a Given U.S. System, Crosscut by Region.

For any given system, the West possesses more optimistic people, while respondents in the South tend to have little confidence in nearly everything. We’ll continue to analyze our recent data on trust in public systems, but will also dive into related questions on purchasing behaviors, household adaptations in place as we head into 2022, and how changes in consumer behavior may impact food and agriculture sector decision-making (or not).