PRINCETON, NJ -- Sixty-four percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of members of Congress as "low" or "very low," tying the record "low"/"very low" rating Gallup has measured for any profession historically. Gallup has asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethics of numerous professions since 1976, including annually since 1990. Lobbyists also received a 64% low honesty and ethics rating in 2008.
This year's update, from a Nov. 28-Dec. 1 Gallup poll, finds Americans rating the honesty and ethical standards of 3 medical professions -- nurses, pharmacists, and doctors -- the highest of the 21 professions tested. At the other end of the spectrum, Americans give the least positive honesty and ethics ratings to members of Congress, lobbyists, car salespeople, and telemarketers.
Nurses consistently top the list, having done so each year since they were first included in 1999 -- apart from 2001, when firefighters were included on a one-time basis to measure public support for them after their heroic actions on 9/11. In addition to nurses and firefighters, medical doctors (1976), clergy (1977, 1981, 1983, 1985), and pharmacists (1988 and 1990-1998) have also ranked as the top-rated profession in a given year.
Americans Highly Negative on Members of Congress
In general, Congress members' honesty and ethics ratings have never been that positive, averaging 15% very high or high and peaking at 25% in 2001. What has changed in recent years is the growing proportion of Americans rating their honesty and ethics as very low or low, rising from 22% in 2001 to 64% today.
This year's ratings of members of Congress are the worst for them on record, with 7% rating them as high and 64% as low. That is consistent with Americans' poor views of Congress in general, as both its job approval rating and broader trust in the institution are also at record lows.
Several Professions Set or Tie New High Honesty/Ethics Ratings
Congress is the only profession that established a new low rating for the profession this year. In contrast, the 84% of Americans who rate the honesty and ethics of nurses as very high or high this year is tied for the highest rating nurses have received. They achieved the same rating in 2001, 2006, and 2008.
For pharmacists and medical doctors, the poll also finds honesty and ethical ratings that tie or set new highs. The trend for doctors dates back to 1976, with 56% rating them highly that year. This year's 70% rating for doctors eclipses the previous high from 2006 by one percentage point. The rating for pharmacists, first measured in 1981, this year ties that profession's historical high, from 2006.
There is also a new high in ratings of accountants (43%), first measured in 2000 but whose score slipped to 32% in 2002 in the wake of the Arthur Andersen accounting scandal for its handling of Enron's books. Building contractors (26%) and real estate agents (20%) also tied or established new high ratings, though both continue to have fairly low ratings in general.
By any measure, Americans' views of Congress are as poor as they have ever been, and Congress now ties lobbyists as the most disparaged profession Gallup has ever tested. Some of the frustration with Congress is no doubt related to the poor economy, which is also keeping down President Obama's job ratings. Congress' poor ratings also likely result from the institution's inability to address the key issues facing the country, such as jobs and the federal budget deficit, with the failure of the "supercommittee" to reach agreement on deficit reduction a recent example.
On the other hand, Americans are as positive as they have ever been about those in medical professions, though the public has always held doctors, nurses, and pharmacists in high esteem.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 2011, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.