By CONNIE CASS

WASHINGTON (AP) — You can take our word for it. Americans don’t trust each other anymore.

We’re not talking about the loss of faith in big institutions such as the government, the church or Wall Street, which fluctuates with events. For four decades, a gut-level ingredient of democracy — trust in the other fellow — has been quietly draining away.

These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.

Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful” in dealing with people.

An AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling.

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

Does it matter that Americans are suspicious of one another? Yes, say worried political and social scientists.

What’s known as “social trust” brings good things.

A society where it’s easier to compromise or make a deal. Where people are willing to work with those who are different from them for the common good. Where trust appears to promote economic growth.

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.”

There’s no easy fix.

In fact, some studies suggest it’s too late for most Americans alive today to become more trusting. That research says the basis for a person’s lifetime trust levels is set by his or her mid-twenties and unlikely to change, other than in some unifying crucible such as a world war.

People do get a little more trusting as they age. But beginning with the baby boomers, each generation has started off adulthood less trusting than those who came before them.

The best hope for creating a more trusting nation may be figuring out how to inspire today’s youth, perhaps united by their high-tech gadgets, to trust the way previous generations did in simpler times.

There are still trusters around to set an example.

Pennsylvania farmer Dennis Hess is one. He runs an unattended farm stand on the honor system.

Customers pick out their produce, tally their bills and drop the money into a slot, making change from an unlocked cashbox. Both regulars and tourists en route to nearby Lititz, Pa., stop for asparagus in spring, corn in summer and, as the weather turns cold, long-neck pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies.

“When people from New York or New Jersey come up,” said Hess, 60, “they are amazed that this kind of thing is done anymore.”

Hess has updated the old ways with technology. He added a video camera a few years back, to help catch people who drive off without paying or raid the cashbox. But he says there isn’t enough theft to undermine his trust in human nature.

“I’ll say 99 and a half percent of the people are honest,” said Hess, who’s operated the produce stand for two decades.

There’s no single explanation for Americans’ loss of trust.

The best-known analysis comes from “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam’s nearly two decades of studying the United States’ declining “social capital,” including trust.

Putnam says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch TV. Less socializing and fewer community meetings make people less trustful than the “long civic generation” that came of age during the Depression and World War II.

University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner, who studies politics and trust, puts the blame elsewhere: economic inequality.

Trust has declined as the gap between the nation’s rich and poor gapes ever wider, Uslaner says, and more and more Americans feel shut out. They’ve lost their sense of a shared fate. Tellingly, trust rises with wealth.

“People who believe the world is a good place and it’s going to get better and you can help make it better, they will be trusting,” Uslaner said. “If you believe it’s dark and driven by outside forces you can’t control, you will be a mistruster.”

African-Americans consistently have expressed far less faith in “most people” than the white majority does. Racism, discrimination and a high rate of poverty destroy trust.

Nearly 8 in 10 African-Americans, in the 2012 survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago with principal funding from the National Science Foundation, felt that “you can’t be too careful.” That figure has held remarkably steady across the 25 GSS surveys since 1972.

The decline in the nation’s overall trust quotient was driven by changing attitudes among whites.

It’s possible that people today are indeed less deserving of trust than Americans in the past, perhaps because of a decline in moral values.

“I think people are acting more on their greed,” said Murawski, a computer specialist who says he has witnessed scams and rip-offs. “Everybody wants a comfortable lifestyle, but what are you going to do for it? Where do you draw the line?”

Ethical behavior such as lying and cheating are difficult to document over the decades. It’s worth noting that the early, most trusting years of the GSS poll coincided with Watergate and the Vietnam War. Trust dropped off in the more stable 1980s.

Crime rates fell in the 1990s and 2000s, and still Americans grew less trusting. Many social scientists blame 24-hour news coverage of distant violence for skewing people’s perceptions of crime.

Can anything bring trust back?

Uslaner and Clark don’t see much hope anytime soon.

Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar launched by Putnam, believes the trust deficit is “eminently fixable” if Americans strive to rebuild community and civic life, perhaps by harnessing technology.

After all, the Internet can widen the circle of acquaintances who might help you find a job. Email makes it easier for clubs to plan face-to-face meetings. Googling someone turns up information that used to come via the community grapevine.

But hackers and viruses and hateful posts eat away at trust. And sitting home watching YouTube means less time out meeting others.

“A lot of it depends on whether we can find ways to get people using technology to connect and be more civically involved,” Sander said.

“The fate of Americans’ trust,” he said, “is in our own hands.”

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

General Social Survey: http://www3.norc.org/GSS+Website

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Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ConnieCass

Poll: Immigration concerns rise with tide of kids

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — For nearly two months, images of immigrant children who have crossed the border without a parent, only to wind up in concrete holding cells once in United States, have tugged at heartstrings. Yet most Americans now say U.S. law should be changed so they can be sent home quickly, without a deportation hearing.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds two-thirds of Americans now say illegal immigration is a serious problem for the country, up 14 points since May and on par with concern about the issue in May 2010, when Arizona’s passage of a strict anti-immigration measure brought the issue to national prominence.

Nearly two-thirds, 62 percent, say immigration is an important issue for them personally, a figure that’s up 10 points since March. President Barack Obama’s approval rating for his handling of immigration dropped in the poll, with just 31 percent approving of his performance on the issue, down from 38 percent in May.

More than 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have illegally entered the country since October. Most of the children hail from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where gang violence is pervasive. Many are seeking to reunite with a parent already living in the United States.

Since initially calling the surge an “urgent humanitarian situation” in early June, Obama has pressed Central American leaders to stem the flow and has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in new money to hire more immigration judges, build more detention space and process children faster.

House Republicans on Tuesday put forward a bill costing $659 million through the final two months of the fiscal year that would send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and allow authorities to deport children more quickly.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose the current process for handling unaccompanied minors crossing the border, which requires that those who are not from Mexico or Canada stay in the U.S. and receive a hearing before a judge before they can be deported. Changing the law to allow all children crossing illegally to be sent back without such a hearing drew support from 51 percent of those polled.

Obama’s proposal for emergency funding, in comparison, was favored by 32 percent and opposed by 38 percent.

Santiago Moncada, a 65-year-old Austin resident who is retired from a state human resources job, said he had considered both proposals and ultimately believes the children need to be deported.

“My heart goes out to them,” said Moncada, a political independent originally from the border city of Eagle Pass. “It needs to be done only because we need to send a message saying our borders are closed. You need to apply for citizenship. You need to apply to come to the United States. You can’t just cross the border illegally.

“My problem is, ‘Who’s going to take care of them?’” Moncada said. “There comes a time when we have to say enough is enough.”

Moncada, however, does support creating a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants who already entered the country illegally. He said many are contributing and should be given a way to become citizens.

A majority of Americans still support such a path to citizenship, though that has slipped to 51 percent from 55 percent in May. Strong opposition to that proposal grew to 25 percent in the new poll from 19 percent in May.

Patricia Thompson’s life has intersected in myriad ways with immigration over the years. She was living in South Florida when thousands of Cubans crossed the Florida Straits fleeing communism. Her son helped build part of the border fence near San Diego with the National Guard. And as an assistant professor of nursing and a college student adviser for four decades, she counseled many immigrant students.

In some cases, those students had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents, said Thompson, 76, who recently relocated to Florence, Alabama, from Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Those kids certainly deserve an immigration chance,” Thompson said, adding that that issue needs to be resolved before the country moves on to another. For the unaccompanied children crossing the border more recently, Thompson said they should be sent back.

“We’ve got to stop this,” said Thompson, who identified herself as a Republican, but said she thought highly of some of Democratic governors in Arkansas. “We can’t take care of the whole world.”

The poll found that most people — 53 percent — believe the U.S. does not have a moral obligation to offer asylum to people fleeing violence or political persecution. And 52 percent say the children entering the U.S. illegally who say they are fleeing gang violence in Central America should not be treated as refugees.

Eric Svien, 57, a political independent who said he leans conservative, works on the investment side of a bank near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Immigration is not his biggest concern. It ranks somewhere behind reform of the tax code, which he said should be the priority. He said the idea of a moral obligation is a “slippery slope.”

“I think we’ve probably been too open in that regard. I think at this point in time when your country’s resources get strained to the point or you just can’t be the caretaker of the world and you’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he said. “Where that line gets drawn I hesitate to say … That might be one spot where we have to say enough is enough.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: In a polarized nation, how Democrats, Republicans see themselves and each other

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Whether it’s the Republicans or the Democrats, America’s political parties are far from beloved. Yet most people continue to align with one or the other.

 Those who claim allegiance to the parties say they are driven by a mix of inertia, preference for one side’s policies over the other and feeling that one can depart from the party line when necessary, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Despite heated politics, few say they prefer one party out of dislike for the other.

 But affiliation doesn’t always equal admiration: One-quarter of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats say they dislike their own party.

Asked what it means when a person says he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, few mention longtime affinity. More people focus on the beliefs or attitudes held by the most visible members of the party.

Around 6 in 10 Americans say they identify with one of the nation’s two major parties. That figure rises to nearly 8 in 10 when those who say they lean toward either party are included. Yet both Democrats and Republicans inspire unfavorable views by a majority of Americans, including one-quarter who say they dislike both of them.

About a third go so far as to say they distrust both parties to handle some of the most basic functions of government: 35 percent trust neither party to handle the federal budget, and 34 percent trust neither Democrats nor Republicans to manage the federal government or address the concerns of “people like me.”

For a sizable minority, that distrust extends to many issues central to the nation’s politics, including the economy, immigration, health care and America’s image overseas. Across all 11 issues asked about in the survey, more than 1 in 5 said they lack faith in either party to handle each issue well.

So why choose a party at all?

Two reasons are cited as strong factors by about 4 in 10 in each party: They generally like the party’s policies, and they have been Republicans or Democrats for as long as they can remember. About a third of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats say that despite their association with a party, they don’t completely agree with what the party stands for. A small share in each party say their affiliation stems from a dislike of the other side.

Thirty percent of Democrats say that liking the party’s candidates is a strong part of their Democratic identity; that slips slightly to 23 percent among Republicans.

The survey also assessed views of partisans from the outside looking in, asking what it means when someone describes himself or herself as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.

As the nation’s two major parties have become increasingly polarized, perceptions of those who affiliate with them reflect that trend. To 22 percent of Americans, when people call themselves Republicans, it means they’re conservative, and 24 percent say that when people describe themselves as Democrats, it means they’re liberal. In 2003, a Pew Research Center survey asking the same question found that 17 percent associated Republicans with conservatism, and 16 percent connected Democrats and liberalism.

Beyond ideology, Americans react to self-professed Republicans by thinking they support the wealthy or businesses (21 percent), vote for Republican candidates or agree with the party’s issue positions (9 percent), or support a smaller government (7 percent). Views on Democrats are more varied, but 7 percent each say Democrats are for working people, support bigger government or more spending, or depend too heavily on government.

Few choose to describe either party using personal attacks; about 5 percent did when asked about Republicans and 9 percent did when asked about Democrats. But cross-party descriptions skew more negative and coalesce around certain traits. Nine percent of Democrats use terms including “closed-minded,” ”racist” or “self-centered” to describe Republicans, and 16 percent of Republicans choose words such as “dumb,” ”lazy” or “immoral” when asked about Democrats.

Highlighting the variation between parties, the poll even found differences in what Republicans and Democrats hear when someone tells them his or her party affiliation. Republicans seize on issues and ideology, while Democrats tend to focus on attitudes or attributes.

A Republican in the survey described the GOP by highlighting issues central to the party’s identity: “Small government, strong national defense, conservative social policies, more self-reliant people rather than people looking for Uncle Sam to support them financially.”

A typical Democrat, on the other hand, described her party’s approach to policy: “They have a social conscience and care about the underdog more than those in the upper socio-economic classes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted May 16-19 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,354 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta