Americans Lack Confidence in Their Leaders, According to New Nationwide Survey: Public opinion survey indicates 73 percent believe leaders are out of touch

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: 617-495-1115
Date: October 24, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, MA — A majority of Americans lack confidence in the quality of leadership in the nation, according to a new national study conducted jointly by the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and U.S. News & World Report. Almost three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) believe their leaders are out of touch with the average person. Sixty-six percent believe we are facing a leadership crisis, and 72 percent believe the United States will decline as a nation unless the country gets better leaders.
The study data were collected by TSC, a division of Yankelovich, Inc. It consisted of telephone interviews with 1,374 adults from September 13–23. A report on the survey findings, the National Leadership Index 2005: A National Study of Confidence in Leadership, can be found at The report was developed by the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, which was created to serve the common good by promoting excellence in leadership research, education, and development.
Survey results are being released in conjunction with the launch of “America’s Best Leaders 2005” by U.S. News & World Report. This special issue, to be featured annually, is on the newsstands today.
Additional key findings include:
• Sixty-five percent Americans are optimistic about the future of American leadership — saying it is likely that the country will have better leaders in the future.
• Well over half (64 percent) of adult men and women believe the nation would be better off if there were more women in leadership positions. However, men (69 percent) are more likely than women (61 percent) to agree.
• The American public has little confidence in the leadership of most sectors of society. Among eleven sectors studied, Americans have the highest confidence in military leaders (40 percent) and medical leaders (30 percent).
• Americans have the lowest overall confidence in the press, the executive branch and Congress. For example, when asked to rate their overall confidence level, 20 percent reported having no confidence at all in the press.
• Americans are not confident that their leaders are prepared to lead in a crisis. This view is shared across gender, political parties, geography, and age groups.
• In the event of a crisis such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack, 62 percent of Americans believe that they personally have the greatest responsibility to ensure their safety — more responsibility than the local government or the federal government.
• Young adults (age 18-24) are more likely than any other group to choose “charisma” as the most important quality for having confidence in a leader.
• People who say organized religion is very important to them rate “personal character” as most important to their confidence in leadership. Yet, interestingly, personal character influences the actual confidence ratings of religious and non-religious people equally.
“Americans understand the value of leadership and are yearning for more throughout American life,” said David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership and U.S. News’ Editor-at-Large. “While critical of leaders today, they are optimistic about leaders in the future. Clearly, achieving high levels of leadership is a crucial challenge for our nation.”
“This study allows us to take a unique scientific look at Americans confidence in leadership, yielding some surprising findings,” said Todd L. Pittinsky, assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School and the lead author of CPL’s National Leadership Index 2005: A National Study of Confidence in Leadership. “Take, for example, the discrepancy between what people say is most important to them in a leader and how they actually make their decisions about which leaders inspire the most confidence. The findings reveal that for Republicans, character is a more important determinant of their confidence in a leader than it is for Democrats or Independents.
Similarly, character is a more important determinant for people who say organized religion is very important to them than it is for those who are not as religious. Interestingly, however, in actual confidence ratings, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, as well as the very religious and the not-so-religious, all give equal weight to personal character.”
Survey Methodology
Survey results were obtained through telephone interviews among a representative sample of adults (18 years of age or older) in the continental United States. A total of 1,374 respondents were interviewed, including an oversample of 172 18- to 24-year-olds in order to bring the total number of 18- to 24-year-olds in the sample to 250.
The interviews were conducted September 13–23, 2005. The sampling error among the nationally representative sample of 1,200 is plus or minus 2.8%.
About the Center for Public Leadership
Established in 2000 through a generous grant from the Wexner Foundation, the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government was created to serve the common good by promoting excellence in leadership research, education, and development. CPL provides cutting-edge teaching and research as well as hands-on training in the practical skills of leadership for people in government, nonprofits, and business. Under the directorship of David R. Gergen and Betsy Myers, CPL has extended its reach by partnering with Harvard Business School Press to create a joint book imprint, and with the Harvard School of Public Health to create the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.
About U.S. News & World Report
Founded in 1933, the weekly national newsmagazine U.S. News & World Report is devoted to investigative journalism and reporting and to analyzing national and international affairs, politics, business, health, science, technology and social trends. Through its annual rankings of America's Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools and America's Best Hospitals, and its News You Can Use™ brand, U.S.News has earned a reputation as the leading provider of service news and information that improves the quality of life of its readers. Available online at, U.S. News was recently named the most credible newsweekly by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
About Yankelovich
The Segmentation Company (TSC), a division of Yankelovich, is a full-service custom research division conducting research for business, the media, associations, and government. We specialize in studies conducted for media release as well as in segmentation research, positioning studies, brand equity, and market sizing.
Yankelovich, Inc. delivers measurable breakthroughs in marketing productivity for it clients. For more than 30 years, the Yankelovich MONITOR has tracked and forecasted consumer value and lifestyle trends. Yankelovich is headquartered in Chapel Hill, NC, with offices in Norwalk, CT and Atlanta, GA.


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