The country has weighed an 800 plus billion-dollar bill against fear of the economic unknown and in doing so has had to decide whom to believe. Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut compares public perceptions of the government and the press to the level of trust it takes to save an economy.
BOB GARFIELD: This is OTM. I'm Bob Garfield. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week, the nation weighed a 700 billion dollar bailout bill, plus another 150 billion in so called “sweeteners” against the fear of the economic unknown. It felt a lot like handing our life savings over to a guy who knows a guy. That’s about how much trust we seem to have in the officials we elected to make such decisions and how much we trust our source for information, the media.
We called Andrew Kohut, president of Pew Research Center, for numbers to back up our trust assumptions. He confirmed that only 39 percent of the public believes the media usually gets the facts right.
Meanwhile, the President’s approval ratings are down to a paltry 28 percent, according to Pew, and a lowly 22 percent, according to a recent CBS survey. Pew found that only 31 percent trust the government in general. Gallup pegs that trust at 26 percent, tying with the record low in 1973. The result? Something like paralysis. Andrew Kohut. ANDREW KOHUT: What we now face is a problem where that distrust does not enable political leadership to rally the public to the solutions that it proposes. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And it strikes us that it’s exacerbated by the ever dropping approval rating for the media. ANDREW KOHUT: Unquestionably, trust in the news media is at a very low point in this time. But it’s not only the absolute levels of trust. One of the real differences about the media these days is that people have different views of the media and trust in the media based upon their partisanship. And that makes it very difficult at a time like this for the public to look to news organizations and say, they're giving us the information that we need to make a good judgment.
Can I say something? One of the most remarkable things about this reaction to the rescue or bailout plan was the claim by the members of the Congress who voted against it that public opinion was overwhelmingly against this bill. That’s just not true.
Public opinion is divided about this bill. Even though people are angry and suspicious about it, in our poll and the CBS poll and the Washington Post survey, the public is pretty much evenly split about a bill that they have great doubts about because of their concerns.
But the squeaky wheels who called their members of Congress because they have intense ideological concerns, or other kinds of concerns, somehow became representative of what public opinion was, and it just wasn't the case. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And yet the Congress people - especially those in tight races - responded, which suggests that with the lack of trust in government we're heading towards a kind of government by email and phone call referendum. ANDREW KOHUT: Well, to a certain extent, that’s the case on a lot of issues. It’s certainly been the case on gun control and other issues where the vocal minority has a bigger sway than the overall majority because it makes so much noise in a politically effective way. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you found just to be clear you found in your polls that a slight majority of Americans favored this bill from the start, not just after the stock market tanked for the second time? ANDREW KOHUT: Right. In the third week of September we found a 55 percent majority of the public favoring it. This week we found a 48 to 37 percent plurality favoring it. Support for the plan had slipped, but the public was still leaning to it.
And that is pretty consistent with what other polls this week have shown, that the public is divided, not overwhelmingly opposed to this plan. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, thanks so much. ANDREW KOHUT: Okay, Brooke. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andrew Kohut is the president of the Pew Research Center.