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

AP-GfK Poll: Americans support menu labeling in restaurants, grocery stores

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half of Americans say they already have enough information at restaurants to decide whether they are making a healthy purchase. But they want even more.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in December, most Americans favor labeling calories on menus in fast food and sit-down restaurants. Most favor labels for prepared foods in the grocery store, too.

The poll was conducted a little more than a week after the Food and Drug Administration announced new rules that will require restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies will have until November 2015 to comply.

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MAJORITY SUPPORT MENU LABELING

A majority of Americans — 56 percent — favor requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie amounts on menus, while 54 percent favor the calorie postings at sit-down restaurants and 52 percent favor the labels at prepared food counters at grocery stores.

Slightly fewer approved of requiring the calorie postings in other dining locations. Forty-nine percent of Americans supported posting calories on coffee shop menus and 44 percent approved of the postings on vending machines and at movie theaters. Forty-three percent favored calorie postings in amusement parks. All of those establishments will be required to post calorie amounts under the new FDA rules.

Only about 1 in 10 Americans oppose labeling requirements at each of these places. The remainder said they neither favor nor oppose each requirement.

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WOMEN, DEMOCRATS MOST SUPPORTIVE

Women are more likely than men to say they favor labeling requirements at restaurants and prepared-food counters, though a majority of men support the labeling at fast food restaurants and around half support it at sit-down restaurants. College-educated respondents are more likely than those without a college education to favor labeling requirements at all of the establishments.

The support appears to be relatively bipartisan. Democrats are significantly more likely to support the calorie postings than independents or Republicans, but a slim majority of Republicans still support calorie postings at restaurants.

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PEOPLE CARE ABOUT CALORIES, SUGARS, FATS

The idea behind the rules is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know it has hundreds of calories — and, in turn, restaurants may make their foods healthier to keep calorie counts down. The menus and menu boards will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.

When they’re judging whether a food item is a healthy choice or not, 55 percent of Americans say how many calories it contains is very or extremely important to them. Same with sodium levels.

Sugar and fat were slightly more important to health-conscious diners — 61 percent said sugar was very or extremely important when deciding on healthy purchases and 59 percent said the same about the amount of fat.

Only 36 percent of Americans said they feel the level of vitamins and minerals is extremely or very important when making healthy purchases, and even fewer — 23 percent, less than a quarter — said the same about whether an item is organic. Women and people living in urban areas were most likely to make organic food a priority.

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AMERICANS ARE ALREADY INFORMED

Even though a majority favors more calorie labeling, most Americans say they already have enough information to decide whether they are making healthy purchases at restaurants.

Sixty percent say they now have enough nutrition information at sit-down restaurants and 56 percent say they do at fast food restaurants. That number drops to 48 percent at prepared food counters in grocery stores.

Around a third say they don’t have enough information to decide if they are making a healthy purchase in any of those places.

When it comes to the grocery store, 75 percent of people say they have enough information to make a healthy choice. Unlike restaurants, where nutritional information is often a mystery, nutrition facts panels have been required on packaged foods since the 1990s. The FDA included prepared foods at supermarkets in the menu labeling rules as grocery stores have increasingly sold restaurant-like offerings.

The menu labels were required by Congress as part of health overhaul in 2010. The FDA has said they are just one way to combat obesity, since Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home.

Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods, said the agency knows there is strong interest from the public in the labeling.

“It’s not a magic wand, but it will help people make better choices about their diets,” he said.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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

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AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

 

 


AP-GfK Poll: 5 things to know about the economy

By JENNIFER AGIESTA and EMILY SWANSON

WASHINGTON (AP) – Few issues in a presidential campaign come close to being as meaningful as the economy. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll offers a look at how the public feels about this issue, which touches nearly every aspect of American life. As the 2016 candidates get set to kick off their campaigns, here are five things to know about public opinion on the economy.

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THE ECONOMY ISN’T A MONOLITH

The economy, writ large, has been America’s top policy priority for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency, despite the slowly building recovery and the recent skyrocketing stock market. But focusing on this overall concern masks a distinction that matters to many Americans. Though negative perceptions of the economy overall are down compared with four years ago (57 percent describe it as “poor” compared with 83 percent who did in November 2010), Americans’ ratings of their own finances are actually a bit worse than they were back then (38 percent describe their household’s finances as poor, up from 30 percent in 2010). Young Americans, under age 30, have an exceptionally negative take on their finances, with nearly half describing them as poor.

Along the same lines, while a majority of Americans say the stock market and big businesses have mostly recovered from the Great Recession, just 16 percent think small businesses have, 27 percent say the job market where they live is mostly recovered and only 34 percent say their family is largely back to normal.

EDUCATION, LOCATION, INCOME LINKED TO IMPRESSION OF ECONOMY

For some in America, the economy is humming along. Majorities of college graduates, urban residents and people with incomes of $100,000 or more say the economy is in good shape. By contrast, just 28 percent of rural residents, 35 percent without college degrees and 35 percent with incomes under $50,000 say it’s in good shape. Half of those with incomes under $50,000 and 42 percent of rural residents say they and their families haven’t yet recovered from the Great Recession.

Rural residents feel the labor and real estate markets in their area have been particularly hard hit: 45 percent say their local real estate market has only recovered a little or not at all, while 53 percent say the same about their local job market.

EXPECTATIONS ARE SOMEWHAT BETTER

The poll finds an uptick in Americans’ hopes for their own finances and the nation’s finances in the coming year. In the new poll, 34 percent say they expect their household’s financial situation to improve over the next 12 months, better than the 27 percent saying so in October. And 38 percent think the overall economic situation in the country will improve in the coming year, up from 31 percent in October. On both measures, the share saying things would worsen dropped significantly. Still, 48 percent see stagnation ahead for themselves and 42 percent see sluggishness for the economy more broadly.

INCHING TOWARD RECOVERY

That expectation of stagnation may be because that’s what most Americans think the economy is doing now. Asked how the economy had changed in the last month, 60 percent said it stayed about the same. Nearly a quarter think it improved, while 14 percent say it’s gotten worse. Those figures are slightly rosier than in October, when 24 percent said things had worsened. But the majority saying things are staying the same has held over two years of AP-GfK polls, with one exception during the partial government shutdown in October 2013 when the share saying things got worse spiked to 45 percent.

LITTLE FAITH IN WASHINGTON TO IMPROVE THINGS

Who can turn things around? Very few think it’s Washington. Two-thirds of Americans say it’s unlikely that the newly elected Republican majority in Congress will be able to improve the economy in the next two years, and 6 in 10 say Obama won’t be able to either. Three in 10 say they don’t even trust either party to handle the economy.

But Americans don’t completely discount that Washington can help: 52 percent say the government generally did a decent job helping the country recover from the Great Recession. A scant 10 percent, however, say that Washington did a “very good” job lifting the economy out of recession.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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

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Online:

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