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Nurses Again Outpace Other Professions for Honesty, Ethics

Nurses Again Outpace Other Professions for Honesty, Ethics

Story Highlights

  • Nurses rated highest for honesty and ethics for 17th consecutive year
  • Members of Congress and telemarketers rated lowest
  • Journalists' ethics rating hits high of 33%, up 10 points since 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than four in five Americans (84%) again rate the honesty and ethical standards of nurses as "very high" or "high," earning them the top spot among a diverse list of professions for the 17th consecutive year. At the same time, members of Congress are again held in the lowest esteem, as nearly 58% of Americans say they have "low" or "very low" ethical standards. Telemarketers join members of Congress as having a majority of low/very low ratings.

Bar graph: Americans' ratings of the honesty and ethics of 20 professions, 2018.

Gallup has measured the public's views of the honesty and ethical standards of a variety of occupations since 1976. While the list changes from year to year, some professions have been included consistently over the past four decades.

With the exception of one year, 2001, when firefighters were on the list after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, nurses have far outpaced all other professions since they were added to the list two decades ago. Before 1999, pharmacists and clergy members were frequently the most-highly rated professions for their ethics.

Majorities of Americans also rate four other professions as having "high" or "very high" honesty and ethical standards in the Dec. 3-12 poll: medical doctors (67%), pharmacists (66%), high school teachers (60%) and police officers (54%).

Twelve of the remaining 13 occupations receive "average" ratings for their honesty and ethical standards from pluralities or majorities ranging from 42% to 54%. Among them, those garnering majority "average" marks for their honesty and ethical standards are real estate agents (54%) and lawyers (51%).

The ethics rating of journalists this year is split, with roughly equal thirds of the public saying they have very high/high, average or low/very low ethical standards.

Journalists' Honesty and Ethical Standards on the Rise

Although journalists' 33% very high/high rating is not outstanding relative to many of the other professions, it marks a 10-percentage-point increase from two years ago and now matches their record high, last recorded in 1977.

Since 1976, Gallup has asked Americans to rate the ethical standards of journalists 29 times, and the overall average positive rating over that period is 26%. Until 2016, strong pluralities or majorities rated journalists as "average," but after the 2016 presidential campaign, the public's ratings of journalists declined. In December 2016, 41% of Americans held a negative opinion of their ethics.

Line graph. Americans’ ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of journalists since 1976. Currently 33% high rating.

Yet this year, positive assessments of journalists' ethical standards have rebounded, owed largely to shifting opinions of Democrats and independents, who may be reacting to President Donald Trump's repeated characterizations of the news media as "the enemy of the people."

Democrats' very high/high rating of journalists' honesty has jumped 21 points since 2016 to 54% this year. For their part, political independents' views have shifted from a 42% low and a 20% high ethics rating to roughly one-third each now saying journalists have high, average and low ethics. At the same time, Republicans' views are essentially unchanged, with 61% now giving journalists low ethics ratings.

Partisans' Ratings of Journalists' Honesty and Ethical Standards
Very high/High Average Low/Very low
% % %
Republicans 10 27 61
Independents 31 32 34
Democrats 54 33 12
Republicans 15 22 63
Independents 20 35 42
Democrats 33 46 21

Clergy's Ethical Rating Continues to Decline

While journalists have experienced a surge in positive ratings, the opposite is true for the clergy. Gallup has measured Americans' views of the clergy's honesty and ethics 34 times beginning in 1977, and this year's 37% very high/high rating is the lowest to date. Although the overall average positive rating is 54%, it has consistently fallen below that level since 2009. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985.

Positive views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped in 2002 amid a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, and although positive ratings rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since 2012.

Line chart. Americans’ high ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of the clergy since 1977, currently a record-low 37%.

These latest low ratings of the clergy come on the heels of more investigations into child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the U.S. Currently, 31% of Catholics and 48% of Protestants rate the clergy positively.

Bottom Line

Healthcare workers, including nurses, medical doctors and pharmacists, continue to earn the highest ratings from Americans for their honesty and ethical standards.

One notable change this year is that one-third of Americans now rate the honesty and ethics of journalists highly, marking a 10-point jump since 2016 to a level not seen in four decades. This change is largely driven by Democrats, and although it is a positive change, journalists have a long way to go before reaching the ratings of highly esteemed nurses.

While journalists are rated less positively than the clergy overall, they are at least showing improvement, whereas the public's views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy continue to decline after the U.S. Catholic Church was rocked again this year by more abuse scandals.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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