PRINCETON, NJ -- As Congress remains involved in protracted negotiations over the pending "fiscal cliff" that could disrupt the nation's economy if not addressed by Jan. 1, one in 10 Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of its members as very high or high. This puts the lawmaking body second lowest on a list of 22 professions measured -- higher only than car salespeople.
These results are from Gallup's Nov. 26-29 update of the perceived honesty and ethical standards of professions. Survey respondents rated each profession on a five-point honesty and ethical scale ranging from "very high" to "very low."
Americans' views of the 22 professions tested vary widely -- extending from the 85% who rate nurses' ethics and honesty as very high or high to a low of 8% rating car salespeople the same.
Among Politicians, State Officials Outperform Federal
Members of Congress have never fared well in the 36 years of these ratings. The high point for congressmen and congresswomen came in November 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when 25% of Americans rated their honesty and ethical standards as very high or high. Last year's 7% honesty rating for members of Congress was the lowest on record.
Senators and state governors receive slightly higher honesty ratings than members of Congress do, as is typical. The highest honesty rating for senators was 25% in November 2001. State governors were not rated in 2001, but their highest rating was 31% in 2000.
Members of Congress (54%) have the dubious distinction of having the largest "very low"/"low" rating of any profession tested this year -- higher than car salespeople (49%) and senators (45%).
Nurses Outperform Medical Doctors
Six medical professional categories were included in this year's update. Nurses' high rating this year is not unexpected; they have scored at the top of all professions every year since they were first included in the list in 1999 -- apart from 2001, when Gallup asked about "firefighters" on a one-time basis after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nurses receive a 10-percentage-point higher rating than pharmacists, who in turn are five points above medical doctors.
The honesty ratings of all of these medical professions are at the highest levels in Gallup's history, albeit by slim margins. Doctors' 70% honesty rating this year is the same as last year's, but up from as low as 47% in the mid-1990s. Nurses are now up one point from their previous high, and pharmacists are two points higher than their previous record. Pharmacists routinely topped the list before Gallup began including nurses.
Americans give dentists honesty ratings of 62% this year -- slightly lower than doctors, pharmacists, or nurses, but tied with their 2006 high score. Psychiatrists (41%) and chiropractors (38%) have lower ratings still, although both are above the median rating for the 22 professions tested and are at their highest levels in Gallup history. Psychiatrists, who are also medical doctors, have been measured separately in Gallup's honesty and ethics ratings going back to 1976.
Bankers and Business Executives Get a Small Bump This Year
Neither business executives nor bankers score highly on a relative basis on the honesty and ethics list, but there is slight solace for both professions in the finding that their scores are up slightly from last year -- each by three points.
Americans' perceptions of the honesty and ethics of bankers have changed significantly over the last decade and a half. Bankers received a 37% honesty score in 2000 and 2006, but after the economic meltdown of 2008, their perceived honesty plummeted to as low as 19% in 2009. The current 28% rating thus represents a partial rehabilitation of bankers' image.
Business executives have never scored particularly highly on this scale, with ratings ranging from 25% in 2001 to 12% in 2008 and 2009.
Engineers Rising in Ratings
Gallup has not tested the perceived honesty and ethics of engineers often, but this year -- with an honesty score of 70% -- engineers are at their highest rating to date, up significantly from their previous high of 62% in 2009. The current rating ties them with doctors for third place.
Gallup first measured engineers in 1976 and their ratings have been as low as 45% in 1983 and 1991.
Police, Teachers, Clergy Do Well; Journalists, Lawyers Do Poorly
Other professions with high honesty ratings include police officers, college teachers, and the clergy. On the other hand, far less than half of Americans are positive about the honesty of journalists, lawyers, insurance salespeople, HMO managers, stockbrokers, and advertising practitioners -- all of which have honesty ratings below 25%.
Car salespeople have been at the bottom of the list every year except 2011, when they tied members of Congress with a 7% honesty rating. Car salespeople's perceived honesty has never climbed out of the single-digit range in the history of the list.
These ratings technically measure Americans' perceptions of the honesty and ethical standards of various professions, but most likely stand for an overall, broad assessment of the image of each profession tested. As such, the results continue to be bad news for politicians, who remain in the bottom half of the list, particularly including members of Congress -- who this year are better than only car salespeople.
These ratings are in line with other indications showing the low esteem in which politicians are held, including a generally negative image of the "federal government," and continuing low congressional job approval ratings.
These data hold better news for members of the medical profession -- particularly nurses, who have topped the list all but once over the last 13 years. Pharmacists and medical doctors also do well, and both of these professions equaled or exceeded their previous high points this year.
Americans also appear to have a growing appreciation for engineers, at least as far as perceptions of their honesty and ethics are concerned.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 26-29, 2012, with a random sample of 1,015 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 cellphone 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. Cellphone 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, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older population living in U.S. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
View methodology, full question results, and trend data.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.