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Trump Rated Worse Than Other Modern-Day Presidents on Ethics

Trump Rated Worse Than Other Modern-Day Presidents on Ethics

Story Highlights

  • Majorities rate Trump's ethical standards lower than those of past six presidents
  • 43% say Trump's ethics are lower than Nixon's; 37% say they are higher
  • 38% rate Trump officials' ethics as excellent or good, similar to May

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A majority of Americans say President Donald Trump's ethical standards are lower than those of each of six U.S. presidents elected in the past 50 years. Less than half say Trump's ethics are lower than Richard Nixon's, but the 43% saying this still outweighs the 37% who say Trump's ethics are higher than Nixon's.

Bar charts showing the public’s views of Trump’s ethical standards as lower than the last seven elected U.S. presidents.

The Sept. 3-9 Gallup poll asked how Trump's ethical standards compare with those of seven of his eight predecessors. Trump fares worst in relation to Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush, each of whom has a greater-than 2-to-1 advantage over Trump in perceptions of having higher vs. lower ethics. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have smaller, but still sizable, advantages over Trump in the public's perceptions of their ethical standards. Nixon is the closest to being on par with Trump.

Nixon, who was charged with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress as a result of his involvement in the Watergate scandal, is the only U.S. president to resign from office, which he did in 1974, before his expected impeachment. Clinton was impeached in 1998 on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but he was acquitted when his case went to trial in the Senate.

Similar percentages of Americans think Trump's ethical standards are higher than Clinton's and Nixon's. However, significantly more say Trump's ethics are below Clinton's than below Nixon's. This is accounted for by higher percentages saying Trump's ethics are the same as Nixon's, or who are unsure.

Gallup asked this question about Clinton in 1997, before the revelations about his involvement with Lewinsky but during the investigation into the Whitewater real estate matter. Respondents at that time were asked to compare Clinton's ethics with those of Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush. Majorities said Clinton's ethical standards were lower than Carter's, Reagan's and the elder Bush's, but Clinton was viewed as more ethical than Nixon, albeit by less than half of Americans.

Americans Rate Ethical Standards of Bill Clinton Compared With Other Presidents
Are Bill Clinton's ethical standards higher or lower than those of each of the following when he was president?
  Clinton's ethics are higher Clinton's ethics are lower Same (vol.) No opinion
  % % % %
Jimmy Carter 18 61 14 7
George H.W. Bush 27 56 13 4
Ronald Reagan 29 54 14 3
Richard Nixon 47 30 15 8
(vol.) = volunteered response
GALLUP, April 18-20, 1997

Partisans Views of Trump's Ethical Standards Diverge

Trump has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct since before he took office, and the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia continues. Yet more than eight in 10 Republicans still approve of the job he is doing.

Republicans are much more likely to say Trump's ethical standards are higher than those of Democratic presidents Obama (73% say Trump's are higher) and Clinton (78%), and are modestly more likely to say Trump's ethics are higher rather than lower compared with Carter's (47% higher, 36% lower).

However, Republicans do not rate Trump's ethics universally more positively compared with previous GOP presidents. Republicans on balance view Trump's ethical standards as lower than those of George H.W. Bush and Reagan, but higher than those of George W. Bush and Nixon.

A majority of Republicans view Trump as more ethical than Nixon, with 69% rating him as such. Rank-and-file Republicans are nearly three times more likely to say Reagan had higher ethical standards than Trump. While a plurality of Republicans rate Trump as more ethical than George W. Bush, a similar plurality say Trump is less ethical than the elder Bush.

Americans' Ratings of Trump's Ethical Standards Compared With Those of Other Presidents, by Political Party
Are Donald Trump's ethical standards higher or lower than those of each of the following when he was president?
  Trump's ethics are higher Trump's ethics are lower
  % %
Barack Obama  
Republicans 73 18
Independents 29 61
Democrats 8 91
George W. Bush  
Republicans 48 37
Independents 27 59
Democrats 8 87
Bill Clinton  
Republicans 78 14
Independents 38 50
Democrats 9 87
George H.W. Bush  
Republicans 38 44
Independents 26 59
Democrats 10 84
Ronald Reagan  
Republicans 21 58
Independents 13 67
Democrats 9 80
Jimmy Carter  
Republicans 47 36
Independents 23 58
Democrats 8 83
Richard Nixon  
Republicans 69 15
Independents 38 41
Democrats 12 72
GALLUP, Sept. 3-9, 2018

Meanwhile, broad majorities of Democrats rate Trump as less ethical than all seven of his predecessors. Political independents think Trump's ethical standards are lower than all of the presidents measured except Nixon, about whom they are almost evenly divided.

Americans' Views of Top Trump Officials' Ethics are Negative and Unchanged

Americans' dim views of Trump's personal ethics extend to his top administration officials, as 7% rate the officials' ethics as "excellent," 31% "good," 17% "not good" and 40% "poor."

These findings are virtually identical to those from a May Gallup poll, when 37% rated them excellent or good and 59% not good or poor. As in May, partisans' views are sharply polarized, with a majority of Republicans rating Trump officials' ethics positively and majorities of Democrats and independents rating them negatively.

Ratings of 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
  % % % %
All adults 7 31 17 40
Republicans 18 60 12 10
Independents 4 30 21 37
Democrats 2 11 15 70
GALLUP, Sept. 3-9, 2018

Gallup has asked this question at least once for each president since Ronald Reagan, with limited measurements on each, and ratings of Trump's top officials remain the lowest historically.

Bottom Line

The American public's ratings of the ethical standards of Trump and his administration's top officials are generally much worse than their ratings of his predecessors. Trump is viewed as having lower ethical standards than all presidents since Nixon, who resigned when faced with imminent impeachment.

Rank-and-file Republicans continue to solidly approve of Trump. The strong economy and his follow-through on a number of campaign promises that appeal to the party's conservative wing are likely keeping him afloat. However, if special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation were to indicate that Trump acted unethically or unlawfully, Republicans' support for the president could erode.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.

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