Ethics Observations On The 2022 Gallup “Americans’ Ratings of Honesty and Ethics of Professions”

Here it is…

Those polled were asked, Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields — very high, high, average, low or very low?”

  • Note that Members of Congress scored the lowest total “Very high/high” score of all the occupations. Why did so many Americans vote for the incumbents who have made them conclude this?
  • Nurses and Pharmacists have traded the #1 slot back and forth for as long as I’ve tracked this poll. My theory remains that they are trusted because most people have insufficient knowledge of what they do not to trust them, and because not trusting them would lead to fear and paranoia. A nurse who hadn’t washed his or her hands between patients killed my mother. No, nurses are not at the top of my list. Nor are pharmacists. Once, our CVS had one professional, long-time pharmacist who knew us and gave excellent advice. For the past ten years, the job has been held by a revolving door-full of temporary occupants. The better they were, the quicker they left.
  • It’s fascinating that despite all the hatred and criticism focused on police in some segments of society, they remains more trusted than the clergy or judges.
  • The rating of 34% for members of the clergy is the lowest ever by two points. Gallup attributes this to the rapidly falling influence of churches and religion generally in U.S. society. I would add that the mainstream media and entertainment industry has been relentlessly critical of organized religion for decades now, and this has taken a predictable toll. With the notable exception of CBS’s “Blue Bloods,” there is no longer any TV show that portrays religion, especially Catholicism, in a consistently positive light.
  • High school teachers’ latest high ethics rating of 53% is the also lowest ever by seven points. The two prior readings, in 2015 and 2018, were 60%. Good. It ought to be even lower.
  • Gallup notes that Democrats (73%) are about twice as likely as Republicans (37%) to believe high school teachers have high ethical standards. There’s no surprise there: the overwhelming majority of teachers are Democrats and members of teachers unions, and most of them consider “teaching” to include leftist indoctrination. The fact that Democrats are also far more likely than Republicans to believe journalists act ethically follows the same pattern. I would be shocked if a single respondent among the deluded 3% who think this is a very ethical profession has voted Republican in the past 20 years. I’m not quite as certain of the ethics dunces (20%) who think journalists have high ethics…but almost.
  • The ethics ratings of nurses, medical doctors and pharmacists have declined because Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are not brain-washed by the partisan news media regarding the health and medical profession’s disgraceful performance in response to the pandemic. The  ratings of these three professions were essentially identical in 2019.
  • Why aren’t scientists on the list? Now that would be a partisan trust divide…
  • For comparison, here is the equivalent chart  from 2018. I see that lawyers have inched up a bit. Journalists, meanwhile have dropped like a rock. They are not necessarily more untrustworthy than four years ago—it’s just that the public is wising up. I credit Donald Trump for much of that.


Pointer: E2

8 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The 2022 Gallup “Americans’ Ratings of Honesty and Ethics of Professions”

  1. Thanks Jack,
    No real surprises with this data. I have no incisive comment here. Just didn’t want you to think your effort goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

  2. I cry foul. Throwing in Car Salesman and Telemarketer is really just to add insult to injury to Members of Congress.

    Or, is it the other way around?

    For what it is worth (and I am probably biased), lawyers are treated unfairly here.

    Unlike most of the groups on this list, lawyers have a well-defined ethical code and there is a strong emphasis on abiding by it. Sure, enforcement may be lax but, at least in my state, it is routinely emphasized.

    And, to be honest, it can be hard to follow. When “sin, greed and vice are your stock in trade” (yes, I stole that from someone), ethical codes can be difficult to follow. The normal human impulse to evade accountability is amplified when that sort of admonition is ethically required of you (sort of).

    Add to that the fact that lawyers often work in an adversarial system. If I lose a case, the client may look at me like I screwed up. They may do the same thing to a surgeon after a bad surgery. The difference between lawyers and surgeons is that you have two lawyers fighting it out at trial; you don’t have two surgeons on opposing sides in the operating room.

    Plus, as much as lawyers are there to give advice, they are often called on to advocate for the worst motives of their clients, often against others. I have represented awful people in order to vindicate their legal rights. I am contemplating doing it again right now.

    Ethically, lawyers seem to be unique. However, based on some of Jack’s recent posts (within the last year), accountants have their own unique challenges.


    • The majority of the population actually has fairly limited interaction with lawyers, and gets a lot of its impression of the trustworthiness of the profession from TV dramas, high-profile scumbag lawyers like Michael Avenatti, and local “ambulance chaser” commercials.

      It probably doesn’t help that 90% of Congress are lawyers, too.

  3. When I taught ethics courses to law enforcement and corrections officers, I used these surveys to not only compare the public’s trust in different occupations, but also to show how the ratings change over time. Sometimes specific events appear to influence the rankings, like the dive policing took immediately after the Rodney King incident and, conversely, the jump upward right after the 9/11 attacks. My point to the students was that our individual actions -and the public’s perception of them- often have profound and far-reaching consequences for the other members of a profession or occupation.

  4. Note that Members of Congress scored the lowest total “Very high/high” score of all the occupations. Why did so many Americans vote for the incumbents who have made them conclude this?

    There is a perverse set of incentives in the structure that constrains things (compounded by the fact that the turkeys won’t vote for the Christmas that repairing the incentives would be*). The late, great Douglas Adams satirised it in his account of the lizard theory of democracy. The tragedy – as in tragedy of the commons – is that the incentives still work that way whether people understand what is going on or not (though cognitive dissonance drives people towards not understanding and towards liking what they think they asked for, too).

    * One of the most transparent and what you see is what you get voting systems, cumulative voting, has practically never been adopted by politicians or company boards, though sometimes judges have imposed it on them.

  5. Regarding adding scientists to the poll, I would like to see the results of that, but an important distinction would be necessary. Real scientists (the physical sciences) should be listed separate from those statisticians popularly called “scientists” (the social sciences).

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