Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Americans' Confidence in Their Leaders Declines Sharply

PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 80% of Americans believe that the U.S. faces a leadership crisis today -- up from 77% in 2007 and 65% in 2005 -- according to poll results just released by the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Merriman River Group.

Many Americans also agree that they are not getting the leadership they need from President Bush and his advisers. 60% say they have not much or no confidence in the leadership of the executive branch, up from 49% last year.

Despite this lack of confidence in presidential leadership, the poll results reveal important points of agreement on how the next president should lead. Moreover, Americans place great importance on the 2008 election: 77% believe it matters a great deal for the future of the country, up from 65% a year ago.

"We hear a lot about deep political divides in this country, but this poll shows that Americans have clear ideas about the kind of leadership they expect from their presidents," said David Gergen, Director of the Center for Public Leadership.

The poll asked a demographically representative sample of 997 U.S. citizens (margin of error +/- 3.1%) to choose between alternate conceptions of good presidential leadership. Many basic aspects of presidential leadership, such as building alliances and preserving checks and balances, are favored by a majority of Americans. For example:

-- 72% say presidents should use the military only to defend America and
react to enemy attacks
-- 71% say presidents should share power equally with Congress and the
Supreme Court
-- 64% say presidents should make decisions based on fairness
-- 56% say foreign policy should focus on building alliances
-- 55% say they prefer presidents who are never willing to be unethical
or bend the rules.

The poll also revealed some key differences in the facets of presidential leadership favored by supporters of John McCain and Barack Obama. "These core debates about presidential leadership give us some clues about how the candidates' leadership profiles attract supporters," notes the study's lead author, Seth Rosenthal.

"McCain supporters have a general preference for presidents who act as independent moral agents and focus on the country's safety and strength," noted Rosenthal. "In contrast, Obama supporters seem to prefer practical presidents whose decisions are more directly responsive to Americans' opinions and needs." For instance, when asked to choose between alternate conceptions of presidential leadership:

-- 62% of McCain supporters say presidents should be willing to offend
people and make enemies when necessary, while 61% of Obama supporters
prefer that presidents always be respectful and diplomatic
-- 60% of McCain supporters say presidents should lead based on moral
beliefs about what is right and wrong, while 52% of Obama supporters
counter that presidential leadership based on practical beliefs about
what works and doesn't work is more important.
-- 58% of McCain supporters say presidents should protect the public's
safety, even if it infringes on their freedom, while 49% of Obama
supporters believe that presidents should protect the public's
freedom, even if it infringes on their safety
-- 40% of McCain supporters want presidents to reduce the government's
power to allow Americans to succeed and fail on their own, a sentiment
with which only 15% of Obama supporters agree

-- 70% of Obama supporters want presidents to keep religious faith a
personal or private matter, while 54% of McCain supporters prefer that
presidents express their religious faith in public
-- 64% of Obama supporters say presidents should do what the American
people think is right, while 50% of McCain supporters want presidents
to do what they themselves think is right
-- 63% of Obama supporters want presidents to ensure that America is
respected for its fairness, while 53% of McCain supporters say it's
more important for presidents to ensure that America is respected for
its strength
-- 63% of Obama supporters say that presidents should focus on uniting
people, while McCain supporters are about equally split on whether a
president should focus on uniting people or on accomplishing goals,
even if it divides people.

Crisis in Confidence

The crisis in confidence in America's leaders is clearly reflected in the National Leadership Index 2008, which presents the public's confidence in the leaders of multiple sectors of society. From 2007 to 2008, many sectors experienced their steepest annual declines in confidence since the inception of the National Leadership Index in 2005. Among the survey's key findings:

-- Confidence in the leaders of seven sectors -- business, the Executive
Branch, Congress, religious, educational, the Supreme Court, and state
government -- fell more sharply in the past year than ever before
-- Confidence in business leaders dropped further than did confidence in
leaders of any other sector
-- Confidence in the Executive Branch and educational leaders has
declined for three years in a row
-- The only sectors in which Americans have more than a moderate amount
of confidence are military and medical leadership
-- Confidence held steady from 2007 for military, medical, nonprofit &
charitable, and local government leaders
-- For the third year in a row, confidence in leaders has not increased
for any sector.

However, Americans may see some light at the end of the tunnel. A plurality, 39%, believe that things will be better after the 2008 election, while only 7% believe things will be worse.

"The American people are experiencing tremendous anxiety at the uncertain state of the nation, and they're holding those at the top responsible," said Todd Pittinsky, Research Director at the Center for Public Leadership. "The next president will face significant challenges. And one of the most important will be to take the lead in restoring Americans' confidence."

For the complete survey and report visit:

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