Gallup’s big announcement this time is that the Clergy has declined in perceived trustworthiness since 2012, but that’s a stretch: the percentage of respondents who rated the men and women of God as “high” or “very high” in honesty and ethics declined 5% from last year, but all of the most trusted professions had similar drop-offs, including the perennial winners, Nurses (down 3 points) and Pharmacists (down 5). The Clergy still is among the most trusted professions, and that’s especially impressive since almost half the country doesn’t believe the basic premise of their calling. I think the Gallup reasonably figured that trumpeting that the clergy’s ratings had hit a new low would garner more publicity than “Car mechanics trusted more now than ever!”, which the data also would support. (They still aren’t trusted much.)
The real surprise is how little any of the professions have changed their public standing. TV reporters, near the bottom, are still as trusted as they were in 1998. Members of Congress, held in even lower esteem, are about where they were in 2009. Lawyers, mirabile dictu, are the most trusted since this survey began, which is not to say they are trusted—they are tied with TV Reporters. The only real head-scratchers are that Ad Executives are at an all-time high—why?—and that lobbyists score so much lower than the people who tell them what to do, Business Executives, and the people they corrupt, Members of Congress. I think it’s because most people have no idea what lobbyists do, but it sounds shady.
“When it comes to honesty or ethical standards, common stereotypes appear to apply to professions or career fields. Nurses, pharmacists, and doctors — considered to be in “healing” occupations — rank the highest, while the old typecast of the “used car salesman” persists, with car salespeople ranking near the bottom in honesty and ethics. Politicians — especially those working for the federal government — remain in low esteem, mirroring a commonly held distrust of the federal government that has developed in the U.S. in the past 40 to 50 years. This survey shows these long-held stereotypes are difficult to shake. The relative resurgence of nursing home operators perhaps shows that as scandals fade, opinions about these practitioners are rising. Yet for the most part, in the past decade, perceptions of certain career fields have remained consistent. If views of a certain profession have changed, it usually has been a function of scandal surrounding it. The Catholic priest abuse stories from the early 2000s helped lead to a sharp drop in Americans’ ratings of clergy, a decline from which the profession has yet to fully recover.”
Thus the same old story: the public has a short attention span, short memories, and doesn’t learn very easily, very quickly, or much. As dismal as the levels of trust shown here are, they should be even lower. Teachers, doctors and journalists are still accorded more trust than is healthy or justified, for example.
I would add this disagreeable thought to keep you awake at night. It seems to me to be faintly ominous when the citizens of a democracy trust the military so much more than its own, freely elected leaders.
Maybe I’ve watched “Seven Days in May” too many times. But this makes me nervous.
Graphic: Threat Track