POSTED BY: | October 2, 2009

Contemporary leaders are less trusting, but also less cynical, than those in top positions nearly four decades ago, according to a new comprehensive survey of White House Fellows — a group that includes more than 600 prominent leaders in nearly every sector of American society.

On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the executive order establishing the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, D. Michael Lindsay, Rice University sociology professor and Baker Institute for Public Policy scholar, released the results from a yearlong study, which resembled the last major survey of America’s leadership cohort (the American Leadership Study of 1971-72).

The President’s Commission on White House Fellowships was established by Executive Order 11183 on Oct. 3, 1964.

Leaders represented in the study include corporate CEOs (of such companies as Levi Strauss & Co. and JCPenney), political leaders (such as presidential cabinet secretaries as well as U.S. senators and representatives), along with top leaders in higher education, nonprofit life and the media.

The report, “Surveying America’s Leadership: A Study of White House Fellows,” reveals striking differences between America’s leadership cohort and the general public as well as differences between leaders today and those of the 1970s. America’s leadership cohort has greater confidence than the general public in certain institutions — such as the Supreme Court and the scientific community — and less confidence in others — such as education or organized labor. The study reveals significant differences on hot-button topics such as executive income and political representativeness.

“This study shows some important ways that the federal government is recruiting not only future political leaders, but also training leaders for the private and nonprofit sectors,” Lindsay said.

The study was co-sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and the Carnegie Corp. of New York. Through its grantmaking, the Carnegie Corporation funded the first few years of the White House Fellowship.