Trust in Military, Law Enforcement Falls by Double Digits Since 2018: Survey

Just over half of Americans say they have solid trust and confidence in the U.S. military, a 14 percent decrease in three years that is far lower among people under age 30.

The third annual national defense survey from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute published Wednesday found a growing sense of "pessimism" toward nearly every traditional American institution.

Confidence and trust in the U.S. military fell from 70 percent in 2018 to 56 percent in 2021, which still makes the armed forces the most respected of the seven groups addressed in the survey. Only 38 percent of Americans under 30 gave the military good marks alongside 44 percent of Black Americans.

Some analysts cited 20 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq as cause for this erosion, a downward trend that survey organizers said began in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Law enforcement also saw a double-digit decrease in trust and confidence over the past three years, falling from 50 percent in 2018 to 39 percent this year. And while the survey found a spike in the number of Americans who are concerned about domestic terror threats within the U.S., two-thirds of respondents described China as an "enemy" of the U.S.

Roger Zakheim, Washington director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, issued a statement that said Americans "are experiencing a sense of pessimism ... [in] almost every question either in confidence or trust, or reliance on an ally, for example. The numbers are generally trickling down."

Among women, 51 percent say they have confidence in the U.S. military, a drop of 16 percent since 2018, according to the survey. An 11-point drop in trust of the military occurred among men, with 63 percent now saying they have faith in the country's armed forces and Pentagon leadership.

Fifty-five percent of self-identified Republicans in the survey said they view internal threats as greater than or equal to any foreign power, but that share increases to 69 percent among Democrats. Nonetheless, an "isolationist" attitude was widely rejected by respondents, with only 27 percent of Americans said the U.S. should be "less engaged" in international events.

Only 1 in-5 Americans said they view Russia as an ally, while 16 percent described Russia as the greatest threat to America.

"While the support of the military has fallen, it remains the most trusted institution by a large margin and a large majority of Americans do see a role for the military in responding to a wide range of domestic scenarios, from natural disasters ... to helping control the pandemic and even in cases where we're seeing domestic unrest in the form of protests, domestic terrorism, or engage an event of insurrection by U.S. citizens," Zakheim wrote in the survey press release.

Newsweek reached out to the Reagan Institute regarding the February 2021 national defense survey Sunday morning.

us marines recruits trust military
U.S. Marine recruits stand in line before heading out to a bus where they will serve a 14-day quarantine at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) on April 13, 2020 in San Diego, California. New COVID-19 distancing practices have gone into effect for new recruits such as standing six feet apart while in formation, a health screening, and a 14-day quarantine period at an off-site hotel before boot camp begins. SANDY HUFFAKER / Contributor/Getty Images