How trust in the U.S. government compares with trust in government around the world
A recent national survey conducted for the Partnership for Public Service found that only 40% of people in America trust the federal government to do what’s right.
What about other countries? Is the lack of trust in government by a majority of a country’s population a unique situation for the United States, or can similar issues be found elsewhere?
Polls and analyses conducted by organizations in different areas of the world show that a trust deficit is a global phenomenon, but there are countries that do exceptionally well on that indicator. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Trust in Government indicator, the U.S. ranked 23rd out of 41 countries surveyed on the level of trust in government.
The traditionally high performers on trust are Switzerland, with an impressive score of 84.6%, and the countries of northern Europe – Norway ranking second with 82.9% and Finland ranking third with 80.9%.
OECD and a number of its initiatives, including the OECD Trust Lab, sections of the biennial “Government at a Glance” report and OECD’s own Trust Survey, have been making efforts to combine and analyze the internationally available trust data for more than a decade.
The latest OECD “Government at a Glance” states that 51% of the population of OECD countries trusted their national governments in 2020. According to this report (with the underlying data collected by Gallop World Poll), the level of trust in government in the U.S. is 46.5%–a slightly higher number than the 40% reported by the Partnership for Public Service survey.
While the cross-country trust analyses generally found there is a strong correlation of GDP per capita and trust – the higher the income level of a country, the higher its population’s level of trust in public institutions (UN, 2021) – it cannot be said that trust systematically reflects economic development.
For instance, the 2020 OECD trust data shows that Belgium – a high-income country – is among the three lowest trust performers with 29.5%. The other two are Chile and Poland with 17.1% and 27.3%, respectively. Another notable exception is Turkey. It’s an upper-middle income country, but with 55.3% of its population trusting its government, it ranks significantly higher than the UK (34.7%), France (41%), Japan (42.3%) and the U.S.
The concept of trust is evasive and can hold somewhat different meanings for people from different cultures. It also is dependent on the context of the day and the varying expectations countries have for their governments. Still, it is interesting to compare how well different countries perform when it comes to this foundational component of public life.
For more details on the Partnership for Public Service 2021 U.S. Trust Survey and its findings that break down the data by groups of population, as well as shed some light on the reasons behind a lack of trust in the U.S. federal government, see our recent report “Trust in Government: A Close Look at Public Perceptions of the Federal Government and Its Employees.”