This paper critically analyzes the survey literature on trust in government and confidence in institutions. It highlights the gap between theoretical understandings of trust which encompass trust, lack of trust, and distrust, next to empirical realizations which fail to consider active distrust of government. Using a specially tailored survey designed for this project, the paper is the first which directly compares competing operationalizations of trust and distrust. The most frequently used measures, both from the National Election Studies and the General Social Survey, tend to exaggerate the level of disaffection compared to a new measure especially designed to run from active trust, which anticipates that the government will do the right thing, to active distrust, the expectation that it will do the wrong thing. Multivariate analyses reveal statistically significant differences in the underlying determinants of these measures. The conventional NES measure in particular is more influenced by short-term evaluations of political events and leaders; our new measure of active trust/distrust taps a more deeply seated orientation toward government.