Can People Be Trusted? Americans Across Communities Share Their Thoughts

by Dante Chinni and Ari Pinkus June 26, 2024

The last few years in the United States have been tense. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a more solitary life for many. Political divides have made people edgy. And you can see the impacts in the results from the American Communities Project’s 2023 survey. In it, only 33% of Americans said, “Most people can be trusted,” while 66% said you “can’t be too careful in dealing with people.”

But under those national figures were a lot of differences among the ACP’s 15 different types of communities, with some climbing to nearly 50% on trust and others sitting closer to 20%. The findings raise some questions about the attitudes, beliefs, hopes, and fears in the ACP’s county groupings.

To be clear, no community stood out for being exemplary on “trust” in the survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted by Ipsos and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Even in the community type with the highest percentage saying, “most people can be trusted,” the LDS Enclaves, a higher percentage said you “can’t be too careful.” But the “trusted” numbers in those communities, 47%, was 14 points higher than the national figure.

There may be a lot of reasons for the higher numbers in those communities. Their populations are largely homogenous — many even attend the same church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And many of those communities are fairly small in size, meaning people are used to running into the same people frequently. A resident may not encounter as many strangers as in other places. This community type also has the second largest percentage of minors, with 28% under 18 years old, compared with 22% under 18 in the nation at large. LDS Enclaves are also seeing a growing child population, according to the 2020 census. Young families tend to be more involved in the community for many reasons, including school events and youth sports.

That kind of close-knit community feel may also help explain why the “trust” number is higher in the Aging Farmlands. Those tend to very small rural communities where people know their friends and neighbors well.

A number that’s a little harder to explain is the low “trust” number in the Evangelical Hubs. Those tend to be fairly rural communities with lots of churchgoers. It is worth noting that those communities tended to be more concerned about their place in the nation, according to the same survey. Indeed, 60% in the Evangelical Hubs said they “feel like a stranger in my own country.”

Another surprise was the relatively strong “trust” number in the ACP’s Big City counties. The 39% saying “most people can be trusted” was six points higher than the national figure, even though those communities are very diverse and often have higher crime rates. It may be that a high-density environment that involves regularly interacting with different kinds of people builds trust.

It’s worth noting that the three ACP community types that stand out for their large BIPOC populations —  the African American South, Hispanic Centers, and Native American Lands — scored below the national figure on “trust.” These communities, while diverse, often tend to be racially and ethnically divided and separated in day-to-day life.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

Learn More