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-WE tv Poll: As women earn and learn more, traditional gender roles still drive dating scene

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Who ever said the dating game was logical?

 A new Associated Press-WE tv poll turns up all kinds of contradictions when people lay out their thoughts on dating, especially when it comes to money and gender roles.

 Seven in 10 of those surveyed say it’s unacceptable to expect a date to pay for everything. But most still say it’s a man’s job to pay for the first date.

Most say it’s OK to ask someone out because he or she seems successful. But even more say it’s unacceptable to turn down people because they haven’t had much success.

One-third think it’s OK to search for online clues about a potential first date’s success in life. But very few say daters should pay attention to each other’s finances before they are exclusive.

Overall, the traits that men and women rate as important hew to traditional gender roles.

Men and women agree that personality is the most important trait to consider when deciding whether to go on a first date with someone, and very few say money is a top consideration. Yet for men, a sense of humor outweighs intelligence, and they are more apt than women to prioritize looks. Most women place greater emphasis on a suitor’s financial situation and career ambitions.

It’s not just older people who feel that way. The differences are amplified among younger singles. About half of single men under age 45 say looks are a priority, while 70 percent of single women under 45 call career ambitions key.

There’s a clear gender gap on finances.

Men are less likely than women to say they’re comfortable dating someone who makes significantly more money than they do. Seventy-one percent of women would be comfortable in that situation, compared with 59 percent of men. Women are more wary of dating someone who earns less. Forty-three percent of men would be OK dating someone with a significantly lower salary, but just 28 percent of women would.

More broadly, uncoupled Americans are squeamish about dating those whose financial situations may not equal their own.

A shaky financial past is generally acceptable, and more say they’re comfortable dating someone who grew up in a poor family than in a wealthy one. But a questionable present inspires doubt.

Just 16 percent say they would be comfortable dating someone who is unemployed, and 23 percent say they would be comfortable dating someone with significant student loan debt.

Once dating turns to commitment and love, money is a bigger consideration for women when deciding whether to wed.

Among men who aren’t married or living with a partner, 84 percent say they’d marry someone they love regardless of whether she or he could provide financial security. Women are more cautious, with 61 percent would choose marriage for love without regard to financial standing.

Over time, Americans’ views on how women ought to balance family and career have shifted in favor of greater choice for women. But the poll also finds a more restrictive view on how men with a family ought to view their career, suggesting the rules many apply to dating continue once families are formed.

A Time/Yankelovich survey conducted in March 1978 found that about three-quarters of Americans felt women ought to put their husbands and children ahead of their careers and felt women with young children shouldn’t work outside the home unless it’s financially necessary. Now, about half hold those views.

But the AP-WE tv poll also found that half of Americans believe a man with a family has a responsibility to choose a higher-paying job over one that is more satisfying, compared with 42 percent who felt that way in 1978.

The poll was conducted in conjunction with WE tv ahead of the launch of the show “Mystery Millionaire.”

The 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, including an oversample of 310 adults who have never been married. Results for all respondents have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Sign-up success fails to translate into broad approval for Obama’s health law

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama celebrated when sign-ups for his health care law topped 8 million, far exceeding expectations after a slipshod launch. Most Americans, however, remain unimpressed.

 A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that public opinion continues to run deeply negative on the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature effort to cover the uninsured. Forty-three percent oppose the law, compared with just 28 percent in support.

 The pattern illustrates why the health care law remains a favored target for Republicans seeking a Senate majority in the midterm elections.

 The poll does have a bright spot for the administration: Those who signed up for coverage aren’t reeling from sticker shock. Most said they found premiums in line with what they expected, or even lower.

But even that was diminished by another finding: More than one-third of those who said they or someone in their household tried to enroll, were ultimately unable to do so. For the White House, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the technical problems that paralyzed the HealthCare.gov website for weeks after it went live last fall.

The example of business owner Henry Kulik shows some of the cross-currents of public opinion.

Kulik is disabled as a result of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a condition that destroys the brain’s ability to control muscle movement. His family runs several stores that sell ice cream and other summer refreshments in the Philadelphia area.

Kulik says he doesn’t believe the federal government should require people to carry health insurance, as the law does. And he can understand worries about the cost to taxpayers. On the other hand, he’s been able to slash what his family pays for health insurance by purchasing coverage through the law’s new insurance markets and by taking advantage of tax credits to lower the premiums.

Before the law, his family was paying $2,400 a month. Now it’s several hundred dollars. And Kulik says the insurance for himself, his wife, and three children is comparable to what they had before.

‘‘I think there is a lot of misinformation,’’ he says.

Obama’s health care law offers subsidized private coverage to middle-class people who have no health plan on the job, and it expands Medicaid to pick up low-income uninsured adults. But last fall’s launch of new health insurance markets was paralyzed technical problems. The debacle contributed to the departure of health secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

After Congress approved the law in 2010, a political backlash over its Medicare cuts, tax increases and new regulations helped Republicans win the House. This fall the GOP is following a similar strategy with the Senate at stake.

‘‘Republicans hold an advantage on this issue among people who feel strongly about it,’’ said Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health, who follows opinion trends on health care.

Still, just 17 percent of poll respondents said the law will be completely repealed. While that represents an increase of 5 percentage points from March, the poll found that 67 percent believe the health law will be implemented with changes, whether major or superficial.

In Walhalla, South Carolina, digital publisher Greg Freeman says he’s no big fan of the president. But now into his late 30s, Freeman thought it would be a good idea to get health insurance through the new law. It took several tries to navigate the federal enrollment website, but Freeman says he’s generally satisfied. His main complaint is that his new doctor is about an hour away, in a bigger town to the east.

‘‘I can see if some of the kinks can be worked out this could be a very positive thing in the long run,’’ Freeman said. ‘‘We should be in a position to be healthiest country in the world.’’

The poll found that sign-up success translated into higher approval for the health care law. Among those who succeeded in purchasing coverage, 51 percent back the law, compared with 30 percent among those who tried to sign up and weren’t successful.

In the tiny coastal Oregon town of Reedsport, locksmith Marvin Plunkett says he’s disappointed that public opinion about the law remains so negative. He was able to gain coverage through the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

Plunkett recalled former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s discredited charge that the law would set up ‘‘death panels’’ to judge whether seniors should receive medical care. ‘‘The truth about it is pretty mundane,’’ he said. ‘‘But the lies are really exciting and emotional.’’

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted May 16-19, 2014 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.

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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Online:

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