In 1958, 10 years after the founding of The Pew Charitable Trusts, about 75% of Americans thought the federal government would do the right thing most of the time. But since then, that number has steadily declined. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, today just 2 in 10 people trust the government in Washington—a sentiment that has changed little in the past 15 years. And a Center survey last year found that only 8% of adults believe the government is responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans. This declining trust in government could spell trouble for democracy. But it doesn’t have to.
Rebuilding trust—and strengthening democracy—begins with gathering facts that can provide a common language for people to discuss their differences, allowing a diversity of voices and contrary viewpoints to be heard and respected. Few organizations deliver that sort of information better than the Pew Research Center. For almost 20 years, the Center has helped people better understand themselves and one another—an especially important undertaking in the pluralist United States. Its recent survey of Asian Americans, for example—the most extensive of its kind—broke stereotypes and revealed key nuances. It showed that Asian Americans are not a monolith but a mosaic.
“Asian adults see more cultural differences than commonalities across their group,” the survey found, with only 9% of Asians living in the U.S. agreeing that they share a common culture. The survey also found that this diverse group shares many values that contribute to a thriving democracy, agreeing with much of the general U.S. population on the traits that make one “truly American.” Nearly all Asian adults (94%) and U.S. adults (91%) say this includes accepting people of diverse racial and religious backgrounds, with similar percentages in both groups saying this also includes believing in individual freedoms and respecting U.S. political institutions and laws.
The public’s declining views of democracy are understandable given the overwhelming number of challenges that the citizens of the world face today. But there are solutions. Many U.S. states and cities are realizing, for example, that they need stronger civic infrastructure—more streamlined health care, a more accessible court system, expanded broadband for everyone—that can take us on the journey to a better life. That’s why Pew is encouraging regulatory changes that would help patients with substance use disorders continue receiving access to lifesaving medications via telehealth, as they were temporarily allowed to do during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic—giving them more time to work and live their lives instead of spending hours each day at in-person clinics. And it’s why we’re also looking for ways to reduce the rise in suicides. Half of all people who take their lives have contact with the health care system in the month before their death. So we’re supporting a program that makes suicide screening part of the questions patients are asked when they’re at the doctor’s office or in a hospital—and connects those who may be thinking of harming themselves to the care they need. As you’ll read in this issue of Trust, these forward-looking steps can help people and communities flourish.
On a global scale, there are no larger challenges than biodiversity loss and climate change, which affect both public health and the health of our planet. That’s why the United Nations has made those issues a priority. We’ve seen some great success this year, with the 196 member countries of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity adopting the crucial goal of protecting 30% of the Earth’s land, freshwater, and ocean by 2030.
Pew played a role in achieving that milestone—and also contributed to the latest success story for the environment: A U.N. treaty adopted in June that will conserve the high seas. This vast swath of waters accounts for two-thirds of the ocean and plays an essential role in protecting species and absorbing carbon.
The treaty can’t go into effect until it’s ratified by at least 60 countries. So, we still have a lot of work in front of us. But as we celebrate 75 years of Pew’s nonpartisan research and public service, we’re looking ahead to many more years of working to protect our planet, reinforce our civic infrastructure, and strengthen democracy—three pillars of progress that will help people lead safer, healthier, and more prosperous lives.
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