- By 55% to 42%, more in U.S. doubt than praise top Biden officials’ ethics
- Biden administration’s 42% positive ethics rating slightly better than Trump’s
- Ethics ratings becoming increasingly partisan
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans rate the ethics of “top Biden administration officials” more negatively than positively in Gallup’s first measure of this assessment since President Joe Biden took office. Just over four in 10 say these officials’ ethical standards are excellent (8%) or good (34%), whereas the majority see them as “not good” (18%) or poor (37%).
The Biden administration’s 42% ethics score is just above the 37% and 38% figures recorded during Donald Trump’s administration. However, it is lower than the scores for all other presidential administrations since Ronald Reagan, which range from 50% to 74%.
As Gallup has noted previously, this question has been asked fairly infrequently, and thus not all aspects of a president’s tenure are captured in the trend the way they are by presidential job approval. Of particular note, the only ratings during Reagan’s presidency predated the Iran-Contra affair in his second term that exposed controversial covert military operations undertaken by several of Reagan’s senior appointees.
With that caveat, it’s notable that Biden and Trump are the only presidents whose administrations’ ethics have received more negative than positive reviews. Before now, the worst result was a tie, seen for Barack Obama’s administration in 2013 and George W. Bush’s in late 2005.
Ethics Ratings Increasingly Mirror Job Approval
The 42% ethics rating for Biden’s officials nearly matches Biden’s 40% job approval score in the same poll, conducted July 3-27. Such consistency between the two metrics has been common in the past three administrations, spanning Obama, Trump and Biden.
Before that, Americans typically made more of a distinction between these dimensions of presidential performance, with administration ethics ratings usually exceeding presidential job approval by at least five percentage points.
Partisan Cross-Support Increasingly Rare in Ethics Ratings
Consistent partisan ratings across different measures are a hallmark of political polarization, with the president’s own party tending to rate him positively in every respect, while members of the opposing party rate him negatively. This is evident in the current poll, in which 84% of Democrats versus only 6% of Republicans say the ethics of top Biden administration officials are excellent or good.
Cross-party support has been steadily dwindling on this measure from a relatively generous assessment in 1994, partly explaining Biden’s and Trump’s low ratings.
- 11% of Democrats rated the Trump administration’s ethics positively during 2018.
- 19% of Republicans rated the Obama administration’s ethics positively in 2013.
- 27% of Democrats rated the George W. Bush administration positively during 2005.
- A third of Republicans rated the Clinton administration positively in 1994.
Meanwhile, in each case, positive ratings from the president’s own party group have been fairly constant, with most in the 81% to 86% range. Trump’s record-low 2018 ratings can be attributed to below-average reviews from Republicans as well as independents, in addition to the minimal support from Democrats.
This pattern of partisans becoming increasingly reluctant to praise the ethics of presidential administrations from the opposing party mirrors the increased partisanship over the years in presidential job approval.
Biden started his presidency by signing an executive order on ethics, committing his administration to certain high standards in doing the public’s business and avoiding personal conflicts of interest.
Democrats’ high positive ratings of Biden administration ethics indicate the president’s own party members believe he has fulfilled this pledge. Republicans’ extremely low ratings suggest they do not. And while this may be somewhat automatic in today’s politically polarized environment, Republicans’ extraordinarily low confidence in Biden administration ethics could also be connected to IRS whistleblower claims about FBI and Justice Department favoritism toward the president’s son, Hunter Biden, in their investigations of him for federal corruption, as well as tax and gun crimes.
As is typical, independents’ ratings fall in between those of the two major parties, largely reflecting the mix of Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning individuals constituting much of this group.
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