It is heartening to see evidence that Americans are beginning to have a little more confidence in their government. But it is sobering to realize, if findings of a new poll are accurate, that most citizens still distrust their government.
The challenge for all - in government, industry, society-at-large, and the press - is to behave so scrupulously as to deserve the public's trust. That done , confidence in the government - and other areas of American society - will continue a much-needed rise.
The latest poll is by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Its findings, just released, are based on questioning of last fall. It found that 33 percent of all Americans now believe their federal government is trustworthy most or all of the time - up from only 25 percent two years earlier. Yet this leaves much room for improvement, with two-thirds of the public feeling they cannot trust their government.
Nonetheless, this is a welcomed first boost since 1964 in public confidence in the government in Washington, as measured by this every-other-year poll. Each previous sounding had recorded an erosion of support, in large part due first to disillusionment with the Vietnam war, then to reaction to Watergate.
Two Washington actions this month in support of strong ethics and morality illustrate why Americans are feeling more confident about their political leaders as a whole.
President Reagan ordered everyone in his administration to cooperate fully with the FBI as it seeks to find out how, during the 1980 presidential campaign, papers from the Carter reelection camp came into possession of Reagan aides. The President promised to take whatever action ''should be taken,'' including dismissals if warranted. It is good to see this forceful stand to dig out all the facts.
Similarly, the House ethics committee has apparently forthrightly probed and now reported on its findings in a sorry case of charges of sexual abuse of teenage congressional pages. Originally, allegations had been made of widespread sexual misconduct by members of the House of Representatives; but the committee found only what its counsel called ''isolated instances.'' These involved two House members who have admitted having had sexual relations with pages.
Additionally the committee charged the House employee who has supervised the pages with having had relations with one page, and with twice having purchased cocaine in the Capitol; he denies the charges.
Most members and employees of Congress deserve the trust of young pages, and their parents. But whatever the facts of the current case ultimately are found to be, it is essential that all members and employees behave with upstanding ethics and morals.
Keeping ethical standards high in a democracy - indeed in any form of government - is a never-ending challenge. One great asset of a democracy is that citizens, like government and societal leaders, have the opportunity to play a role. Working together, all can ensure that government deserves more trust - and gets it.