Where do you stand on this question …

Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?

Pew Research recently used this and two related questions to compile an index of public trust.

Among all adults, Americans are closely divided. 45% believe most people are trustworthy, while 50% say you can't be too careful. What's remarkable to me, with institutional failure all around us, is that trust levels aren't even lower … 35% of all adults fall into Pew's “high social trust” category and 38% fall into the “low trust” category; the rest are in the middle.

The Pew survey unearthed these findings:

    • Groups who score higher on the social trust index include whites, college grads, professionals, over 50 years old, rural residents and those earning $50K+ per year.
    • Traits that have little or no correlation to social trust levels include gender, party affiliation, liberal vs conservative, and religious affiliation.
    • People who voted in the last presidential election were nearly twice as likely as people who didn't vote to have a high level of social trust (not surprising given the demographic attributes of high trusters).

Unfortunately, with only a handful of questions, the Pew study doesn't get at some intriguing issues, like …

    • Who (or what institutions) do we (or various segments of us) tend to trust or not trust?
    • What behaviors (like donating, political activism) correlate with high versus low trust?
    • Is high trust associated with hope or optimism?

For instance, I would assume that “low trusters” are very unlikely to open their wallets for causes and charities. And if they do, they're less likely to be loyal donors. I would assume they are more likely to be overall pessimists.

If you look again (above) at the demographics associated with higher trust, aren't you looking at the profile of a donor?

In fact, isn't donating (and fundraising) all about trust … and the related traits of hope and optimism?

Tom

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