AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
A new poll out this month from the Kaiser Family Foundation has shed more light on just how much the COVID-19 pandemic shattered Americans’ faith in the country’s public health system. But healthcare officials aren’t alone in facing a crisis of public confidence; survey data suggests that nearly every part of the country’s “expert class” is facing a reckoning.
According to the KFF’s national survey, Americans’ confidence in the CDC as a source of accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines has fallen from 73% in December of 2020 to 64% today. 62% of respondents said they trusted the FDA, compared to 70% who said the same in December of 2020, while public trust in Dr. Anthony Fauci has fallen from 68% to 53%.
These numbers were particularly pronounced among Republicans. Just 41%, 43%, and 25% of self-identified Republicans said they trusted the CDC, FDA, and Dr. Fauci, respectively, while 57%, 62%, and 47% said the same in December of 2020.
Other polls over the past year have found even more striking results.
A Pew Research Center survey last February found that just 29% of adults said they had a “great deal of confidence” in medical scientists to “act in the best interest of the public.” 40% said the same in November 2020. An NBC news poll from January 2022 found that trust in the CDC had fallen from 69% prior to the pandemic to just 44%. According to a Morning Consult poll from January of this year, only 55% of U.S. adults say they trust the country’s public health institutions to handle a future pandemic.
All of these numbers have likely only gotten worse in light of new revelations about Fauci’s attempts to discredit the lab leak theory early on and findings from the Department of Energy that further support the likelihood that COVID-19 escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China.
Gallup’s annual poll on Americans’ trust in institutions shows that public confidence in a litany of other so-called “experts” is also in freefall.
Just 25% of Americans said in 2022 that they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Supreme Court, down from 40% in 2020 and a high of 56% in 1988. Only 16% said they have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, down from 24% in 2020 and a high of 51% in 1979.
While confidence numbers for Congress have always been dismal, the percentage of Americans saying they have a “great deal” of confidence in the country’s most powerful lawmaking body reached an all-time low of 2% last year. The number of respondents who said they have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in TV news also reached a new low of 11% in 2022.
Across the board, public trust in every institution surveyed by Gallup – including non-governmental ones like big business and even organized religion – has declined by at least 10% since polling began in the 1970s. In some cases, trust has been cut in half over the span of just a few years.
Liberals have frantically sounded the alarm about the declining trust in institutions and experts – even as they completely fail to recognize the root cause of the phenomenon.
Their obliviousness is perhaps best summed up by a 2017 book from political pundit Tom Nichols entitled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. In it, Nichols argues, “Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue.” He asserts that Americans are choosing to be ignorant, and the solution is for common people to become “modestly informed.”
Essentially, Nichols (and so many liberals who have embraced his basic premise) is arguing that it is not the “expert” class which occupies institutional positions of power that has failed the people by being wrong over and over again and using their power and resources for personal advancement, but rather the people who have failed the expert class by not accepting every word uttered by an “expert” as gospel truth.
This pathology was on full display in a 60 Minutes appearance in January from infamous environmental doomsayer Paul Ehrlich. The 90-year-old is famous for wrongly predicting 4 billion humans would die of starvation by 1989 in his notoriously incorrect 1968 book Population Bomb.
“If I’m always wrong, so is science since my work is always peer-reviewed,” Ehrlich defiantly claimed. “I’ve gotten virtually every scientific honor. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes, but no basic ones.”
Here Ehrlich inadvertently lays bare the game played by the “expert” class: if you question me, he says, you question science itself.
Dr. Fauci invoked a similar line of reasoning during the pandemic with his constant refrain of “trust the science,” even going so far as to say, “I represent science.”
Ehrlich and Fauci both view themselves as indistinguishable from the institutions they are a part of. Their credibility and legitimacy rests on recognition and celebration by other “experts,” rather than any actual accountability or expectations that any of their predictions are proven correct.
Across the spectrum, “the experts” have asserted that to question them is to question the institutions they represent, and even to question expertise itself. And increasingly, that is just what Americans are doing.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.