PRINCETON, NJ -- Less than a year after New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign over his involvement in a prostitution ring, another governor, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has run into serious ethical trouble, this time involving charges of political corruption.
Chances are Americans are not shocked by the news. As of December 2006, just 22% of Americans held state governors in high esteem, saying their honesty and ethics were generally high or very high.
Still, only 26% said the honesty and ethics of governors were generally low -- most said they were average -- meaning the recent scandals risk lowering the reputation of governors even further.
Gallup annually asks Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people serving in various professions, but does not include all professions on the list every year. State governors were last included in December 2006, at which time nurses were the most well-regarded profession, with 84% rating them highly, and car salesmen the least respected, with 7%.
With 22% rating them highly, governors were positioned in the bottom half of the 2006 list, ranking No. 14 out of 23 professions rated.
Governors' Ethics Relative to Those of Other Politicos
While governors don't compare favorably to many private industry professionals, they do fare better than other types of politicians.
In 2006, governors (ranked 14th) were viewed as more ethical than "senators" (18th) and "congressmen" (19th). The contrast was especially sharp in terms of the percentage saying each type of elected official has low ethics: 26% for state governors, compared with 35% for senators and 40% for congressmen.
Gallup trends show generally little change in the ratings of state governors since they were first included on Gallup's honesty and ethics of professions survey in 1999. High ethics ratings for governors reached 31% in November 2000, but have otherwise been in the 22% to 26% range.
More generally, the American public offers a damning review of the ethical behavior of government officials in answer to a question asking, "Do you think that quite a few of the people running the government are crooked, not very many are, or do you think hardly any of them are crooked?" In January of this year, a solid majority of Americans either responded that "quite a few" government officials are crooked (52%) or volunteered that all are crooked (5%).
Until Now, Democrats Rated Better Than GOP on Corruption
Both political parties have had their share of embarrassing scandals in recent years. However, as of mid-2006 -- shortly after former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy charges, and after Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay announced he would resign over an investigation into his campaign finances and connections to Abramoff -- Americans were more likely to perceive these scandals as involving Republicans than Democrats, 15% vs. 5%. (The vast majority thought both parties were equally involved.)
Also, two years ago -- before the Spitzer and Blagojevich affairs made news -- Americans were much more likely to believe the Democratic Party than the Republican Party was better able to handle the problem of government corruption: 49% vs. 28%.