October 15, 2008
Americans’ Confidence in Their Leaders Declines Sharply
Most agree on basic aspects of presidential leadership,
but candidate preferences reveal divisions
Cambridge, MA—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
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
• 71% say presidents should share power equally with Congress and the Supreme
• 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