Before Spitzer Scandal, Mixed Ethics Reviews for Governors

Ranked 14th out of 23 professions rated for honesty and ethics

PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite New Yorkers' apparent shock over their corruption-slaying governor's involvement with a prostitution ring, Americans may not be surprised to see another governor in ethical trouble. As of December 2006, just 22% of Americans held state governors in high esteem for their moral character, saying their honesty and ethics were generally high or very high.

Still, only 26% of Americans said the honesty and ethics of these leaders was generally low -- most said they were average -- meaning scandals like the one now befalling New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer could risk lowering the reputation of governors even further.

Gallup conducts an annual rating of the perceived honesty and ethical standards of people serving in various professions, but does not include all professions on the list every year. State governors were last included in December 2006, at which time nurses were the most well-regarded profession, with 84% rating them highly, and car salesmen the least respected, with 7%.

Governors were positioned in the bottom half of the 2006 list, ranking No. 14 out of 23 professions rated, based on the percentage giving them a high ethics rating.

However, relative to other types of politicians, state governors are among the most well regarded. In 2006, they were viewed as more ethical than "senators" (ranked 18th) and "congressmen" (19th). The contrast was especially sharp in terms of the percentage saying each group has low ethics: 26% for state governors, compared with 35% for senators and 40% for congressmen.

Gallup's 2007 "honesty and ethics" list included "state officeholders," at which time this broad category (which could include governors along with other state officials) was rated highly by only 12% of Americans. On the few occasions that Gallup included both state governors and state officeholders in the same survey, state governors received the higher scores. For example, in 1999, 24% of Americans rated the ethics of state governors high or very high, compared with 16% for state officeholders.

Gallup trends show generally little change in the ratings of state governors since they were first included on Gallup's honesty and ethics of professions survey in 1999. Positive ethics ratings for governors were higher in November 2000 (30%), but have otherwise been in the 22% to 26% range.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 8-10, 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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