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 finds most NFL fans believe Commissioner Roger Goodell should keep job

By RACHEL COHEN, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Most NFL fans believe Commissioner Roger Goodell should keep his job after his handling of recent domestic violence cases, according to a new Associated Press-GfK Poll.

Only 32 percent say Goodell should lose his job over the issue, with 66 percent saying he shouldn’t.

Support for his handling of the cases is much lower, though, with 42 percent saying they disapprove. The same percentage neither approve nor disapprove, with just 15 percent approving.

Goodell initially suspended Ray Rice for two games after the Baltimore Ravens running back was charged with assaulting his then-fiancee. The commissioner defended the punishment at first, before admitting more than a month later that he “didn’t get it right.”

When a video of the assault later surfaced, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, saying the images constituted new evidence. Rice was released earlier that day by the Ravens.

The poll shows strong support for keeping Rice off the field for at least some period of time. Forty-three percent of fans say Rice should never be allowed to play again. Just 7 percent say he should be able to play now, with 49 percent saying he should be permitted to return after missing more time.

Opinions differed by gender and race. Slightly more than half of women say Rice should never be allowed to play again, compared with 37 percent of men. Just 19 percent of black fans say he should receive a permanent ban, while 46 percent of white fans support that.

Respondents were more receptive to the idea of Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson returning to the field. Peterson is currently on paid leave while he faces child abuse charges.

Fifty-four percent of fans say he should be allowed to play again if he is found not guilty, and another 29 percent say he should be able to return regardless of the case’s outcome. Only 15 percent say he should never play again.

Answers to this question also varied by gender and race. Thirty-four percent of men say Peterson should be allowed to return under any circumstances, compared with 22 percent of women. And 45 percent of black fans say he should be able to return no matter the verdict, while only 25 percent of white fans say that.

The poll suggests that the recent spate of highly publicized domestic violence cases has made a small dent in the NFL’s popularity. An AP-GfK Poll conducted in January found that 49 percent of respondents considered themselves fans of pro football. That number dropped to 43 percent in the current poll.

In January, 19 percent of respondents said their interest in the sport had increased in the previous five years, with 12 percent saying it had decreased. This time, 12 percent say it has increased while 15 percent say it has decreased.

Of the group with less interest, 42 percent say the recent domestic violence arrests have been an extremely or very important factor in that drop.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It included online interviews with 1,845 adults, including 836 NFL fans. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents and plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the NFL fans.

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AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.


AP-GfK Poll: Americans not confident in US government’s ability to minimize range of threats

By JILL COLVIN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to protect their personal safety and economic security, a sign that their widespread unease about the state of the nation extends far beyond politics, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

With Election Day about a month away, more than half those in the survey said Washington can do little to effectively lessen threats such as climate change, mass shootings, racial tensions, economic uncertainty and an unstable job market.

“I think what we’ve got going on here in America is the perfect storm of not good things,” said Joe Teasdale, 59, who lives in southwest Wisconsin and works as an assistant engineer at a casino.

For many of those questioned in the poll, conducted before doctors in Texas diagnosed a Liberian man with the Ebola virus, the concern starts with the economy.

The poll found that 9 in 10 of those most likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election call the economy an extremely or very important issue. Teasdale is among those who say the slow recovery from the recession is a top concern.

Despite improvements nationally, business is far from booming in his state, Teasdale said. He’s been supplementing his stagnant salary by renovating and renting out duplexes and has little faith the situation will improve soon. He wants government to get out of the way of business.

“If you’re putting so much restriction on them where it isn’t practical for them to expand or grow, why should they?” Teasdale asked.

Those surveyed also pointed to events such as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the fatal police shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old and the beheading of a woman in an Oklahoma food processing plant, apparently at the hand of a suspended co-worker.

“This is the first time I’ve felt insecure in my own country,” said Jan Thomas, 75, of Stevensville, Montana. “Especially after the beheading in Oklahoma. That’s scary.”

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

“There’s too many people who still don’t believe that it’s happening,” bemoaned Felicia Duncan, 53, who lives in Sharonville, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and works as an office manager at a mechanical contracting company.

Urbanites tend to be more confident the government will keep them safe from terrorist threats than do people living in suburbs and rural areas. Younger Americans are more confident than older people that the government can minimize the threat of mass shootings. When it comes to quelling racial tensions, Hispanics are more confident than are blacks and whites.

Thirteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and as the Obama administration conducts airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, only 1 in 5 in the poll say they are extremely or very confident the government can keep them safe from another terrorist attack. Four in 10 express moderate confidence.

While there has not been a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, roughly one-third of Americans say they are not too confident or not confident at all in the government’s ability to prevent another.

Bill Denison, 85, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, is among the minority who thinks the government is doing a good job keeping citizens safe, at least when it comes to preventing domestic attacks.

“Overall I think that the best job that we’ve done in this country is with anti-terrorism,” he said. “We’re doing a magnificent job and so far it’s been pretty successful.”

Still, he expressed disbelief at the recent security breaches involving Secret Service agents, including an incident in which a man scaled the White House fence and made his way deep into the executive mansion.

“The fact that a guy can run into the White House is pretty disturbing,” he said. “But we’re only human. And humans are going to make mistakes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted September 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Online:

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