Gallup’s Honesty And Ethics Ratings Of Occupations

shattered-trustThe annual Gallup survey is out. You can read Gallup’s commentary here, and see the details here. (you’ll need an Adobe reader.)

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.

Gallup’s conclusion:

“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



20 thoughts on “Gallup’s Honesty And Ethics Ratings Of Occupations

  1. I definitely think grade school teachers as well as day care providers rank higher in trust than they should be. I wonder if this is due to some type of cognitive dissonance caused by guilt on the part of the parents. Especially in the instance of daycare, I have heard parents go on and on about how much their daycare providers “absolutely love their children” as if they say it enough times it will be true.

  2. I look at trust in two ways…

    1) The way most view it, by which I mean “I accept what they say and do as being done because they actually believe it”. In the way, I am shocked that anyone trusts anyone else. People are animals, and particularly vicious and conniving ones at that. People, none of us, should be trusted one iota.

    2) The completely objectivist way, by which I mean “people will act in whatever way serves them best – if that means you get helped, that is a happy accident”. In this way I trust virtually everyone completely – I make certain to observe conditions, and thus can fairly reliably predict what someone will do.

  3. Considering the shabby treatment that military leaders have been subject to especially during the current administration it doesn’t surprise me that politicians are ranked lower in trustworthiness. Most presidents including Carter, George H Bush, George W Bush, Nixon, JFK, Eisenhower have served as officers in the Armed Forces. Many member of Congress historically had the same background. With the removal of the draft the percentage has gone way down and now what we have is a Congress full of professional attorneys. Draw your own conclusions.

  4. I’m not sure that the method Gallup used can deliver data that bears this kind of interpretation. As far as I can see the Gallup results do not show the level of Trust in each profession or occupation, only the percentage of respondents grading each occupation high or very high for trust.

    So for example on a continuous variable of trust ranging from 0 (distrust) to 100 (complete trust) if the median of all 1,031 respondents for say car mechanics was 50% with a distribution around that level then only the ‘top tail’ of respondents attributing ‘high or very high’ trust would be counted in the final result. Which may be a lot lower percentage than 50 (as a percentage of respondents). And the resulting trust score will depend not only on the median level of trust on a continuous scale but also ‘width’ of the distribution. If there’s a wide disparity of views of a profession it will outscore an occcupation about which there is exact unified view, even if the median scores were identical (provided that the median is below the high/very high boundary).

    The poll results should work roughly for trending (for example looking at clergy as Gallup did) but i doubt it will bear interptretation of changes in trust levels overall or allow straightforward comparison between trends or positions for different professions (for example military to political).

    • I think I agree. I confess that I tried to reorder the data by using a weighted system: one point for “average”, 2 points for each “high” and three points for each “very high”, measured against tow points for each “low” and three for each “very low.” It didn’t change the rankings enough to justify the effort.

      • Yes, you were applying a more … – conventional – scoring system.

        I’m not sure what more to say except the headline table showing, for example 8% against Congress members is not a simple proportional ‘honesty score’ as might be assumed by a casual reader. Not a briliant display of ‘how not to lie with statistics’, Msrs Gallup.

        • I don’t trust statistical analysis if the source doesn’t link every last bit of the raw data gathered, to allow for readers to either draw their own conclusions or determine whether or not statistical manipulation occurred.

          Like when Organization X has determined that Use of Product Y makes you 4 times more likely to die than not using Product Y. Except Organization X doesn’t tell you that their study only determined that Using Product Y seems to lead to 4 out of 1,000,000 deaths, whereas not using it leads to only 1 out of 1,000,000 deaths…. (yes a simplified hyppothetical)

          • I doubt you would find anything wrong with the data or the analysis. It’s more a matter of nuanced slippery multi-valued language hiding a shift in focus on the lovely numbers.

            In this case
            ‘Congress members score 8% for honesty’
            ‘8% of people believe Congress members are honest’
            Two completely different statements about two completely different numbers. The difference hidden by being both stated as % percentages.

            • I’m not sure how you reconcile “nuanced slippery multi-valued language hiding a shift in focus on the lovely numbers” with “not finding something wrong with the analysis”.

              • well for example take the word ‘analysis’. I used the word in the sense of the numercal treatment of data to produce statistics. you seem to be using it to include the written descriptions arguments and presentation of statistics. So the word ‘analysis’ is subtly different between us, the difference is nuanced but definite, the word has multiple values, To that extent the use of the word is difficult because it is slippery and a mischievous person might use… oh, you already did.


                • I don’t think you can reasonably divorce communication of the analysis from trusting the analysis. If the analysis is pushed in a muddling and misinterpretable way, then there’s no reason to trust the analysis.

                  Give me the raw data.

  5. Trust and capability are two very different things though. The vast majority of active or retired military I know are incredibly trustworthy and forthright. Sometimes that means they are jerks, but you know where they stand. Just because I can trust someone doesn’t mean I’d want them running the country after all.

  6. “The relative resurgence of nursing home operators perhaps shows that as scandals fade, opinions about these practitioners are rising.”

    “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.”

    Hey guys, remember when those catholic priests had that sex scandal? Do ya? Remember that their rate of sexual assualts was at 4% of their male population at the peak of the scandal, as opposed to 8% of the general populace and 10% of teachers? No surprises that clergy has plummeted!

  7. “Teachers, doctors and journalists are still accorded more trust than is healthy or justified, for example.”

    Did I miss something… ? No mention by you of lawyers on the trust scale? (Or did I miss something?)

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