SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Those unpopular bailouts and the financial meltdown overall have contributed to near-record levels of distrust in the federal government. All this week we've been reporting that only about one in five Americans believe they can trust the government most of the time. Older Americans are just as skeptical when it comes to Washington, D.C., but they have much greater faith in at least one arm of the government, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: On a warm Friday night in Florida, Mary and Larry Grieger are holding court, shuffleboard court, in St. Petersburg. The Griegers retired here about 10 years ago, after 30 years in Michigan.
MARY GRIEGER: We've got this little window. We just seem to be the perfect age where we're still healthy enough to do stuff and we can afford to not work.
HORSLEY: Maybe that extra free time helps explain why people over 65 consistently vote at much higher levels than young people do. Grieger says that doesn't mean they trust the people they vote for.
GRIEGER: Even if you elected somebody 'cause you really liked him, it's who's around him. And the really good-looking ones, the ones you think are squeaky clean, turn out to be some of the dirtiest ones.
Unidentified Woman: And take it all the way to the back. Hand on the chair...
HORSLEY: Two and half hours north, in Ocala, Florida, billboards beckon seniors into retirement communities with fitness clubs and golf courses. Active living is the sales pitch here. Retiree John Hauge complains it's the government that's gotten too active.
JOHN HAUGE: I have very little or no trust in the government. We've lost sight of what our Constitution stands for, and I think we should backtrack and take a look at that and see what our founding fathers wanted, not what we interpret them to say.
HORSLEY: A new poll by the Pew Research Center found similar distrust among all Americans over the age of 30. But seniors are the one group that didn't favor Barack Obama in the last election. John McCain carried this conservative Florida district by 14 points.
Retiree Sylvia Joram says she was initially leery of Obama, because of what she calls the Muslim part. But she is a Democrat and she ended up voting for Obama, enthusiastically.
SYLVIA JORAM: That Christmas I got my husband the plate with Obama on it. A lot of my neighbors aren't too happy when they come over. But it sits very proudly in our curio cabinet.
HORSLEY: Joram is part of a group of seniors who get together regularly to discuss current events at On Top of the World, an Ocala community that's home to some 8,000 retirees. Even those who support the president here have a deep distrust of the federal government.
ART WOODSTONE: Most of the people who seek public office begin with the best intentions. And when they discover that there's a power that they can hold onto, they suddenly change.
EVA SCRANTON: They just want to be re-elected, it seems like, and don't look at the country's best.
JOHN JORAM: I don't think we trust anyone anymore.
HORSLEY: That's Art Woodstone, Eva Scranton and John Joram, Sylvia's husband.
One branch the government these seniors do feel good about is the one that sends them a check every month. In the Pew Survey, 69 percent of seniors expressed a positive view of the Social Security Administration. That's down from previous years, but retirees like Linda and Steve Short still give Social Security much higher ratings than people under 65.
LINDA SHORT: When I reached the age, it was like a eureka moment: I've got this, oh my goodness. And it's been great.
STEVE SHORT: I personally think the people in the Social Security Administration do a superb job. They get the job done for millions of people and they get it done right, every month.
SHORT: I feel like it was a savings. Maybe I wouldn't have saved that kind of money. It never occurred to me I would be 73 years old one day.
HORSLEY: Sylvia and John Joram say they feel fortunate to have Social Security and Medicare. John says even those who are most critical of the federal government change their tune when it comes to those two programs.
JORAM: You see all these Tea Party people now, they'll be right there to take the Social Security and Medicare. I haven't heard anybody turn it down. They're right there in line.
HORSLEY: No matter how much these seniors like the government programs with the most direct impact on their lives, that doesn't translate to a broader trust. As a consequence, many are skeptical of the government's ability to offer similar security to their children.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
SIMON: You can find more from our Trust in Government series at NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.