Each year Gallup conducts its “confidence” poll about major institutions, and the takeaway from the latest one is that Americans’ confidence in public schools is at an all-time low. This has led to the inevitable back-and-forth about whether this means the public schools stink, or whether our Evil Corporate Puppetmasters have succeeded in making us think the public schools stink. I’m not sure it means anything, one way or the other.
The problem is “confidence.” Parents might have little confidence in the system because they feel it is unresponsive, but education employees might have little confidence in the system because they feel underappreciated. Gallup also asks about confidence in organized labor, which will better help illustrate what I mean. Here are the confidence figures since 2004:
2004 – 31%
2005 – 24%
2006 – 24%
2007 – 19%
2008 – 20%
2009 – 19%
2010 – 20%
2011 – 21%
2012 – 21%
Those numbers mean pretty low confidence in labor unions. But Gallup also conducts another annual poll in which respondents are asked if they “approve” of labor unions. The approval numbers for the same time period hover around 60%, before dropping to the low 50s in the last few years.
That’s a nuanced position for such a large number of people to have – to approve of something but have low confidence in it. It seems open to a lot of interpretations. Maybe some of those who support unions have a defeatist attitude about their future. Maybe some see a distinction between approving of something in theory and having confidence in its actions. Who can tell?
As long as we’re dissecting confidence, isn’t it a little bit surprising to find Republicans have more confidence in more institutions than Democrats do? I don’t know how many self-described libertarians were polled, but they might have responded this way: