The COVID-19 pandemic, social justice movements, and economic uncertainty have all had an impact on Americans’ trust in government. In 2017 and 2021, PRRI asked American adults a series of questions related to their trust in various levels of government, and, though the topline numbers did not move significantly in the intervening years, several demographic and religious subgroups did display a shift in levels of trust over time. Republicans generally distrust all levels of government more in 2021 than they did in 2017, while the opposite is true of Democrats.
Partisans Have Switched Places on Trusting the Federal Government
In 2021, seven in ten Americans (71%) trusted the federal government to do the right thing only some or none of the time (this was counted as distrust), compared to 29% who trusted it just about always or most of the time. The numbers were similar in 2017 (71% distrust, 29% trust). Among partisans, the vast majority of Republicans (86%) distrusted the federal government in 2021, an increase of 18 percentage points from 2017 (68%), when Republicans held the presidency. By contrast, a slim majority of Democrats (54%) distrusted the federal government in 2021, now that a Democrat is in the presidency, down from 69% in 2017. Independents fall in between, with 74% expressing distrust in 2021, and haven’t shifted significantly from 2017 (76%).
About three in four white Americans (74%), 62% of Americans who identify with another race, and 60% of Hispanic Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing only some or none of the time in 2021. Black Americans were the only racial or ethnic group whose distrust of the federal government has changed significantly, decreasing from 76% in 2017 to 68% in 2021 — meaning they trust the federal government more in 2021 than they did in 2017.
Trust levels among white Americans differ according to education. About eight in ten white Americans without a college degree (79%) trusted the federal government to do the right thing only some or none of the time, an increase in distrust from 74% in 2017. Two-thirds of white Americans with a college degree (66%), down from 73% in 2017, distrust the federal government, again indicating trust has increased.
Majorities of both religiously affiliated and religiously unaffiliated Americans distrusted the government in 2021. The vast majority of white evangelical Protestants (85%) said they trusted the federal government only some or none of the time (up from 69% in 2017), compared with about seven in ten white mainline Protestants (72%, similar to 74% in 2017), members of non-Christian religions (68%, down from 76% in 2017), religiously unaffiliated Americans (68%, down from 80% in 2017), and Black Protestants (67%, down from 77% in 2017). Hispanic Catholics are the least likely to distrust the federal government (59% in 2021 and 55% in 2017).
Distrust in State Government Decreased Among Black Americans and Democrats but Increased Among White Evangelical Protestants
In 2021, six in ten Americans (61%) said that they trust their state government to do the right thing only some or none of the time, compared with 38% who trusted it to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. These percentages differ slightly from 2017 (64% distrust, 34% trust). Half of Democrats (50%) distrusted their state government in 2021, notably down from 63% in 2017, compared with two-thirds of Republicans (67%, up from 59% in 2017) and independents (65%, similar to 68% in 2017).
Two-thirds of Black Americans (66%) distrusted their state government in 2021, down from 76% in 2017, compared with 62% of white Americans (a decrease from 64% in 2017), 57% of Hispanic Americans (similar to 59% in 2017), and 56% of Americans who identify with another race (similar to 55% in 2017).
Nearly seven in ten white evangelical Protestants (69%) reported distrusting their state government (up from 56% in 2017), compared with about six in ten religiously unaffiliated Americans (62%, down from 69% in 2017), white mainline Protestants (59%, down from 67%), members of non-Christian religions (59%, a large decrease from 73% in 2017), and other Christian denominations (59%, an increase from 52% in 2017). Distrust of state government held steady among Hispanic Catholics, with about half distrusting the state government in both years (51% in 2021 and 50% in 2017).
Americans Trust Local Government More
A slim majority (56%) of Americans reported trusting their local government to do the right thing only some or none of the time in 2021, compared with 43% who trusted it just about always or most of the time, similar to 2017 (55% distrust, 43% trust). Echoing partisan federal- and state-level trends, more Republicans distrusted local government in 2021 (59%) than in 2017 (51%), in contrast to Democrats, whose distrust was similar to that of Republicans in 2017 (52%) but decreased in 2021 (46%). Independents are as likely to report trusting local governments to do the right thing only some or none of the time in 2021 (61%) as in 2017 (58%).
More than two-thirds of Black Americans (67%, down from 71% in 2017), nearly six in ten Hispanic Americans (56%, up from 52% in 2017) and Americans who identify with an unspecified race (59%, an increase from 53% in 2017), and a slim majority of white Americans (53% in both years) trusted local government to do the right thing only some or none of the time.
More than two-thirds of Black Protestants (68%, similar to 73% in 2017) and nearly six in ten religiously unaffiliated Americans (59%) and white evangelical Protestants (58%) reported distrusting local government in 2021. Once again, Hispanic Catholics were the least likely to report distrusting local government (53% in 2021, 43% in 2017).
 Another race includes those who are Asian American or Pacific Islander, Native American, and multiracial. Sample sizes were not large enough to report these groups separately.