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Trump Administration Officials Get Low Marks on Ethics

Trump Administration Officials Get Low Marks on Ethics

Story Highlights

  • 37% rate ethics of Trump officials as excellent or good
  • Lowest administration ethics rating Gallup has measured
  • Contrary to typical pattern, Trump job approval exceeds ethics rating

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans do not regard top Trump administration officials as very ethical, with 37% describing their ethical standards as excellent or good and 59% as not good or poor. The Trump administration's ethical rating is lower than readings for other presidential administrations, most of which had positive ratings of 50% or better.

Overall, how would you rate the ethical standards of top [ ... ] administration officials -- as excellent, good, not good or poor?
Excellent Good Not good Poor Excellent/Good
% % % % %
Donald Trump
2018 May 1-10 7 30 19 40 37
Barack Obama
2013 Jun 1-4 8 42 17 32 50
George W. Bush
2005 Oct 21-23 11 40 19 29 51
2005 Jul 22-24 8 47 24 18 55
2002 Jul 26-28 15 59 15 8 74
Bill Clinton
1994 Mar 7-8 4 53 20 21 57
1994 Jan 15-17 6 37 39 16 43
George H.W. Bush
1989 May 12-16 ^ 5 54 20 7 59
Ronald Reagan
1984 Oct 22-23 ^ 7 60 17 12 67
1984 Sep 7-11 ^ 6 58 19 15 64
1983 Jul 28-Aug 1 ^ 5 59 22 9 64
^ ABC News/Washington Post poll
Gallup

The latest results are based on a May 1-10 Gallup poll. The ethics question has been asked at least once about each president since Ronald Reagan, though there are limited measurements on each.

George W. Bush's administration received the highest ethics rating measured of 74% in 2002, a time when the president was enjoying high job approval ratings after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The two ratings of Bush's administration from later in his presidency were significantly lower.

Three separate measures for Ronald Reagan were above 60%, though all were taken in 1983 and 1984, before the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton had the prior low of 43%, recorded in January 1994 after he requested that a special prosecutor be named to investigate the Whitewater real estate controversy.

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Trump's low ratings likely reflect the multiple controversies surrounding his presidency, including allegations of Russian involvement in his presidential campaign and payments a Trump associate made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

In addition to Trump himself, other members of his administration have faced questions about their activities. For example, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been questioned by Congress about lavish spending and several other potential ethical violations. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last year over his use of government funds to travel by private jet.

Ethical ratings of presidential administrations are highly correlated with the president's job approval rating at the time, such that presidents with higher job approval ratings tend to have higher ethics ratings for their administrations. For example, the high ethics rating of 74% for George W. Bush's administration in 2002 came at a time when 69% approved of the job Bush was doing in office. The Trump administration's 37% ethics rating compares with a 44% job approval rating for Trump in the same survey.

In most cases, administration ethics ratings have been higher than the president's job approval rating at the time, so Trump's lower rating differs from the usual pattern.

Comparison of Presidential Administrations' Ethical Standards Ratings and Job Approval
Excellent/Good ethics rating Job approval Difference
% % pct. pts.
Donald Trump
2018 May 1-10 37 44 -7
Barack Obama
2013 Jun 1-4 50 47 +3
George W. Bush
2005 Oct 21-23 51 42 +9
2005 Jul 22-24 55 49 +6
2002 Jul 26-28 74 69 +5
Bill Clinton
1994 Mar 7-8 57 50 +7
1994 Jan 15-17 43 54 -11
George H.W. Bush
1989 May 12-16 ^ 59 63 -4
Ronald Reagan
1984 Oct 22-23 ^ 67 58 +9
1984 Sep 7-11 ^ 64 57 +7
1983 Jul 28-Aug 1 ^ 64 44 +20
^ ABC News/Washington Post poll; Job approval based on nearest Gallup measurement
Gallup

Seven in 10 Democrats Say Trump Administration Ethics Are Poor

Perceptions of the ethical standards of Trump administration officials vary greatly by party, as would be expected. Whereas 71% Republicans rate the administration's standards as either excellent or good, the same percentage of Democrats say they are poor. Just 9% of Democrats rate them positively.

Ratings of the Ethical Standards of Trump Administration Officials, by Political Party
Overall, how would you rate the ethical standards of top Trump administration officials -- as excellent, good, not good or poor?
Excellent Good Not good Poor Excellent/Good
% % % % %
Republicans 17 54 17 10 71
Independents 5 31 22 38 36
Democrats 1 8 18 71 9
May 1-10, 2018
Gallup

Trump fares worse among both his own party and the opposition party than either of his two immediate predecessors did.

Republicans weren't quite as negative about Obama administration officials in 2013 as Democrats are about Trump officials. Also, Democrats were more positive about Obama's team than Republicans are about Trump's.

Similarly, Democrats were far less critical of the Bush administration in 2005 -- 40% rated its ethics as poor -- than they are of the Trump administration now. And Republicans were more positive about Bush officials' ethics than they are about those of Trump officials.

Ratings of the Ethical Standards of Obama and George W. Bush Administration Officials, by Political Party
Overall, how would you rate the ethical standards of top [Obama/Bush] administration officials -- as excellent, good, not good or poor?
Excellent Good Not good Poor Excellent/Good
% % % % %
Obama (2013)
Republicans 2 17 20 60 19
Independents 5 40 18 34 45
Democrats 17 64 14 5 81
Bush (2005)
Republicans 25 62 8 5 87
Independents 6 42 24 25 48
Democrats <1 27 33 40 27
Obama data are based on June 1-4, 2013, poll. Bush data are based on average of July and October 2005 polls.
Gallup

Implications

President Trump's first- and second-year presidential job approval ratings have been the lowest Gallup has measured. Americans rate the ethical standards of his leading officials low as well. In fact, more approve of the job Trump is doing as president than rate his officials' ethics positively, and those ethics ratings are the lowest measured to date.

While the low ratings for the Trump administration's ethics are likely driven to a large degree by opinions of the president personally, his top-ranking officials have had their share of controversies that could be dragging these ratings down. Trump has chosen to publicly back some of his advisers (Pruitt) and would-be advisers (former Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Ronny Jackson) who have become embroiled in controversy. But he has also asked others, such as Price and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, to resign. Perceptions of Trump administration ethics are unlikely to improve without a big boost in his job approval rating, but continued issues with his cabinet officials and advisers could blunt the impact any improved job approval ratings might have on these ethics ratings.

Explore President Trump's approval ratings and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,024 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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