A recent Essential Poll records that Australia’s most trusted institution is the High Court of Australia. 20% of the 1835 people surveyed said that they placed “a lot of trust” in the High Court” and 37% said that they placed “some trust” in the High Court. The High Court outstripped all other institutions, but was closely followed by the ABC. The High Court also had the lowest level of distrust, with only 12% of respondents saying that they had “no trust” in the High Court. Political parties scored the lowest in the 2014 poll, with only 2% of people saying that they placed “a lot of trust” in political parties and 11% of people saying that they placed “some trust” in political parties. 50% of people said that they had “no trust” in political parties.
Oddly, trust in the High Court has fallen since the same poll was taken in March 2013. In that poll, the results were truly stellar: 34% of people said that they placed “a lot of trust” in the High Court and 40% said that they placed “some trust” in the High Court. Nonetheless, the High Court can be proud: it has done consistently well. Previous Essential Polls disclose that it was the most trusted institution in June 2012 and in September 2011 as well.
Trust in the court system is mirrored by surveys in the United States. For example, a Harvard Public Opinion Project survey found that young Americans place the most trust in the Supreme Court of America, more trust than they place in the President or Congress. A recent Gallup Poll from June 2014 found that 30% of Americans trust the Supreme Court “a great deal” or “quite a lot”. However, according to the Gallup Poll, trust in the Supreme Court has been falling in recent years, since 1997 – 1998, where the Court hit a high point, with 50% of people trusting it “a great deal” or “quite a lot”.
Similarly, an English Ipsos MORI poll shows that English people consistently trust judges highly, although not quite as highly as they trust doctors and teachers.
It appears that Australian people don’t trust lawyers nearly as much as they trust the High Court. Lawyers were the 39th most trusted profession in the 2013 Reader’s Digest poll, although journalists, real estate agents and taxi drivers all fared worse. Unfortunately judges aren’t listed in the Reader’s Digest survey.
All in all, it is heartening that Australians put so much trust in our High Court and hold it in high regard. But the question asked by the Harvard Political Review in relation to the survey of American young people (linked above) is an interesting one: namely, how does the least democratic body hold the highest trust of people in our democracy? In Australia at least, I think that the High Court has stood above any simple partisan politics, and this may have engendered trust.