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Ethics Ratings of Nearly All Professions Down in U.S.

Ethics Ratings of Nearly All Professions Down in U.S.

Story Highlights

  • Nearly all professions show some decline in honesty/ethics ratings
  • New lows for clergy, Congress members, senators, pharmacists, journalists
  • Nurses top list for 22nd consecutive year

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans’ ratings of nearly all 23 professions measured in Gallup’s 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll are lower than they have been in recent years. Only one profession -- labor union leaders -- has not declined since 2019, yet a relatively low 25% rate their honesty and ethics as “very high” or “high.”

Nurses remain the most trusted profession, with 78% of U.S. adults currently believing nurses have high honesty and ethical standards. However, that is down seven percentage points from 2019 and 11 points from its peak in 2020.

At the other end of the spectrum, members of Congress, senators, car salespeople and advertising practitioners are viewed as the least ethical, with ratings in the single digits that have worsened or remained flat.


Gallup began measuring the honesty and ethics of various professions in 1976 with annual updates since 1990. Several professions have been included every year, while others have been asked on a rotating basis over time. The latest ethics ratings are from a Dec. 1-20, 2023, poll in which about 800 U.S. adults rated each of 23 professions.

All but one of the professions -- veterinarians -- were measured in both 2019 and 2023. The honesty and ethics ratings of the 22 other careers have declined by an average of six points since 2019. Twelve of the 13 professions tested in both 2022 and 2023 show at least slightly lower ratings in the past year, except for labor union leaders.

Gallup last asked about veterinarians in 2006, when 71% of U.S. adults viewed them as highly or very highly ethical. This compares with the latest 65%.

In addition to nurses and veterinarians, four other occupations have majority-level positive ratings -- engineers, dentists, medical doctors and pharmacists.

New Lows for Five Professions; Three Others Tie Their Lows

Ethics ratings for five professions hit new lows this year, including members of Congress (6%), senators (8%), journalists (19%), clergy (32%) and pharmacists (55%).


Meanwhile, the ratings of bankers (19%), business executives (12%) and college teachers (42%) tie their previous low points. Bankers’ and business executives’ ratings were last this low in 2009, just after the Great Recession. College teachers have not been viewed this poorly since 1977.

College Graduates Tend to View Professions More Positively

About half of the 23 professions included in the 2023 survey show meaningful differences by education level, with college graduates giving a more positive honesty and ethics rating than non-college graduates in each case. Almost all of the 11 professions showing education differences are performed by people with a bachelor’s degree, if not a postgraduate education.

The largest education differences are seen in ratings of dentists and engineers, with roughly seven in 10 college graduates rating those professions’ honesty and ethical standards highly, compared with slightly more than half of non-graduates.

Ratings of psychiatrists, college teachers and pharmacists show nearly as large educational differences, ranging from 14 to 16 points, while doctors, nurses and veterinarians also show double-digit education gaps.


These educational differences have been consistent in prior years’ surveys.

Adults without a college degree rate lawyers’ honesty and ethics slightly better than college graduates in the latest survey, 18% to 13%, respectively. While this difference is not statistically significant, in prior years non-college graduates have rated lawyers more highly by significant margins.

Partisans’ Ratings of College Teachers Differ Most                    

Republicans and Democrats have different views of professions, with Democrats tending to be more complimentary of workers’ honesty and ethical standards than Republicans are. In fact, police officers are the only profession with higher honesty and ethics ratings among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (55%) than among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (37%).

The largest party differences are seen in evaluations of college teachers, with a 40-point gap (62% among Democrats/Democratic leaners and 22% among Republicans/Republican leaners). Partisans’ honesty and ethics ratings of psychiatrists, journalists and labor union leaders differ by 20 points or more, while there is a 19-point difference for medical doctors.


These party differences may be influenced to some degree by there being a Democratic president in the White House. In 2019, the last time these items were asked and when Republican Donald Trump was in office, about half as many professions as today showed meaningful party differences. That year, Republicans rated the honesty and ethics of police officers (24 points) and business executives (nine points) higher than Democrats did, while Democrats gave higher ratings to college teachers (33 points), psychiatrists (15 points), journalists (35 points), labor union leaders (18 points), lawyers (eight points) and state governors (seven points).


The image of many professions -- particularly those in the medical field -- sharply improved in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that effect was short-lived, and many ratings have since declined to all-time lows. Almost all professions are now viewed less positively than they were a year ago and four years ago. A select few -- led by nurses for the 22nd consecutive year -- maintain overall positive ratings.

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