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Capitol Hill, Washington. Photo credit: Colin Lloyd

Poll: Americans distrust think tanks even more than media

"Think tanks are suffering from a crisis of public confidence. A 2018 poll showed that just 20 percent of Americans trust what think tanks have to say. And, according to polling just released today, the situation has only gotten worse," said Ben Freeman, a researcher at the Quincy Institute.

Published: October 2, 2022, 12:16 pm

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    Often called the “the death of expertise,” “truth decay,” or the “post-factual” world, Americans especially distrust think tanks, according to Cast From Clay, the same UK firm that conducted the 2018 poll. Only 48 percent of respondents believe “think tankers and public policy experts” were “valuable” to society.

    Even journalists  (55 percent) and lawyers (60 percent) did better than think tankers. Notably, think tank experts have been on the forefront of punting a war against Russia.

    And warmongering efforts by think tanks are clearly not popular. According to the Pew Research Center, only “three-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents currently say the US is providing about the right amount of support for Ukraine”. By contrast, in March, about half of Republicans (49 percent) thought so.

    A Republican House may well cut off spending on the war in Ukraine early next year as the tide is turning within the party. There are now twice as many Republican voters who believe too much money is being spent on the war in Ukraine as those who think not enough is being spent on it.

    “The number one reason respondents cited for questioning what geopolitical experts was ‘suspecting the expert may have a hidden agenda,’ followed very closely by a ‘lack of transparency around who is funding the expert’”.

    There is indeed very little transparency regarding funders in Washington. The American Enterprise Institute, one of the nation’s top think tanks, does not publicly disclose its funders. The Heritage Foundation even opposes donor disclosure on the grounds that it violates, “Americans’ fundamental rights to free political speech, association, and privacy.”

    Freeman recommended that think tanks “be fully transparent about their funding […] and avoid the appearance of potential conflicts of interest”.

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