Americans’ Confidence in Leaders Hits New Low

Contact: Patrick McKiernan
Phone: (617) 496-4695
Contact Organization: Center for Public Leadership
Date: December 22, 2011

Cambridge, MA—Not only in politics but across the board in eight different sectors of national life, Americans have lost confidence in their leaders over the past year. Overall, some 77% say that the country now has a crisis in leadership, and confidence levels have fallen to the lowest levels recorded in recent times.

Those are among the key findings of a nationwide poll, the National Leadership Index (NLI), released today by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and Merriman River Group. The survey is the seventh annual measurement of public attitudes toward 13 different sectors of American life, ranging from business and nonprofits to politics and religion.

“It is understandable that in these hard times, when so much frustration and anger is directed at Washington and Wall Street, Americans would be down on the performance of their leaders. But the levels of unhappiness have reached a point where they threaten the coherence and stability of our society,” said David Gergen, professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership.

“Fortunately,” he continued, “Americans still like to believe that our problems can be solved through better leaders. But we don’t have much time—these results should be a fire bell in the night for leaders in every walk of life.”

In only two sectors measured in this year’s report—military and medical—did the leaders receive above-average confidence scores. Ratings for the remaining eleven sectors fell into the below-average range or remained in the below-average range. Wall Street and Congress stood out as the sectors in which Americans have the least confidence—indeed, the confidence rating for these two was barely above “none at all.”

Additional highlights from this year’s National Leadership Index:

• For the fourth year in a row, Americans’ confidence in their leaders is significantly below-average.
• The belief that we have a leadership crisis is at its highest level since 2008.
• Confidence in the leadership of eight sectors declined during the past year: medical, nonprofit & charity, the Supreme Court, education, business, the Executive Branch, Congress, and Wall Street.
• Confidence in Congressional and educational leaders decreased for the second straight year.
• Confidence in Congressional and Supreme Court leadership fell the most precipitously during the past year.

The complete report is available online at:

The poll surveyed a demographically representative sample of 1,065 U.S. citizens (margin of error ± 3.0 percent).

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About the Center for Public Leadership
Established through a generous gift from the Wexner Foundation, the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge about leadership through research and teaching. It is equally committed to broadening and deepening the pool of leaders for the common good through cocurricular activities that include skill-building workshops, public service fellowships, and programming in leadership for social change. Learn more at:


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