Gallup’s Trust Survey: Congress in Freefall

Gallup’s just released annual survey of public attitudes toward various professions held few surprises this year. As has been the case for over a decade,nurses and pharmacists topped the list as the  professions regarded as the most honest and ethical. I find the presence of high school teachers fourth (ahead of police officers)  a triumph of public relations, nostalgia and wishful thinking, but the other top rated professions were predictable. In general, the professions we are forced to depend upon the most are the ones we trust the most—because we have little choice. The ones we trust the least tend to be those with whom we can be in conflict with or see as having differing interests from our own. Doctors are always going to rank higher than lawyers, for example, because there are no doctors trying to make us sick.

Of the 21 professions in the survey, only seven—including funeral directors!—had positive numbers, meaning that more people regarded them as ethical than unethical. The seriously distrusted professions, with a percentage of very low ratings significantly higher than the proportion of very high ratings, begins with lawyers, business executives, union leaders, stock brokers, and advertising execs in order of trustworthiness; bankers, interestingly, avoided this group and had about as many supporters as detractors. But the bottom four is where the really dishonest professionals dwell, according to the poll. With single digit positive ratings compared to negative ratings of  more than 50% are telemarketers, car salesmen, lobbyists, and at the very bottom, Congress, with 64% of the public regarding the institution as dishonest and unethical. That, Gallup says, is not only the lowest rating for Congress since the survey has been taken; it is the worst rating for any profession.

That Congress has sunk so far is not a surprise. It is just depressing.

Here are the results:

10 thoughts on “Gallup’s Trust Survey: Congress in Freefall

  1. One thing that strikes me: Why “High School Teachers” rather than just “Teachers”? Or why are “Elementary School Teachers” not on the list?


  2. Of the 21 professions in the survey, only seven—including funeral directors!—had positive numbers, meaning that more people regarded them as ethical than unethical.

    Looking at the numbers, I’m guessing that you were comparing the “very high/high” column to the “average” column when you came up with this statement – Funeral directors, number 7, are 44/43, and accountants, number 8, are 43/49. Is “average” really “unethical”, though? I would think you should compare the “very high/high” to “very low/low”, in which case accountants and building contractors make the cut.

    (Only slightly motivated to make this comment by the fact that I’m an accountant.)

  3. Red flag: incomplete picture. If the Gallup people excluded “government executives,” then they eroded my trust in their work too. Why not include that profession type in the survey, especially since business executives and members of Congress are included? That exclusion makes me suspect what we see is corrupted by someone’s partisanship. The survey either failed to report, or worse, completely ignored, a significant and relevant (for comparability purposes if nothing else) profession type. I don’t bring it up to defend Congress. I bring it up because Congress is not all the government there is to rate; the omission incites a focus, leaving a blind spot. In any case, the notion of “Member of Congress” as a *profession* smells bad to me, as does the same notion applied to “government executive.”

    • The poll has existed since 1976, and while there have been changes in the professions included from time to time, “member of Congress” has apparently been one of them since the beginning, going by the graph in the article. The poll is certainly not all-inclusive or perfect, but I don’t think this particular exclusion is based on partisanship – at least not based on the current government.

      • I could let slide Gallup’s omission up to, say, 12-18 years ago. But information technology, uses of it, and impacts by it have changed tremendously since then. I believe this is accurate: Since the 1970s, the size and power of the federal Executive Branch have grown far greater and faster than those of the other branches. Given those changes, I cannot accept as fair a survey of ratings on honesty and ethics that excludes data on “professionals” laboring in something so big, so high in impact and thus so “on the hook” for public perceptions.

        In addition, I think the survey should start to include “activists (other than lobbyists),” “athletes,” “computer experts,” “energy producers,” and “farmers” – further acknowledging our “Kardashian era” by including “celebrities” or “entertainers” (or perhaps more specifically, TV stars, movie stars, radio stars, and “other stars”). Oh what the heck: put bloggers on the hook too.

        Perhaps Gallup made a decision at the beginning not to include “government executives” for rating, based on “Watergate bias.” It’s a hoot, just speculating: I can picture early “deciders” sitting together, mulling over what professions to pose for rating. Guffawing, as one, at a suggestion to include government executives – and someone summarizing the groupthink with, “Does anybody expect anything especially revealing or useful ever to come from rating THEM?”

  4. I forget the French — something like “le plus ce change, le plus la meme chose” — the more things change, the more they stay the same — been 60 years since my last college French class.

    Anyway, the Congressional low rank is in line with something said by the old master about 100 years ago:

    “…there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress…” (Mark Twain).

  5. Pingback: In Search of a Unified F***-Up Theory « The Weekly Sift

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