Nurses Remain Atop Honesty and Ethics List

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Hold substantial lead over other professions

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual poll on the honesty and ethics of people in different professions finds that nurses continue to be rated most positively, by a substantial margin. Telemarketers and car salesmen rank at the bottom of this year's list. Most of the professions' ratings show little change from their last readings. However, there has been a slight increase in the ratings of bankers' honesty and ethics, and slight decreases for pharmacists and congressmen.

The Nov. 17-20 Gallup Poll asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of members of professions on a five-point scale that ranges from "very high" to "very low." Of the 21 professions tested this year, 6 have majority "high ethical" ratings -- nurses (82%), pharmacists (67%), medical doctors (65%), high school teachers (64%), policemen (61%), and clergy (54%). Only one has a majority giving it low ethical ratings -- telemarketers. Car salesmen come close, with 49% rating this profession as low on honesty and ethics.

Honesty and Ethical Ratings of People in Different Professions,
2005 Gallup Poll

(sorted by Very high/High)

%
Very high/
High

%
Average

%
Low/
Very low

Nurses

82

15

3

Druggists/Pharmacists

67

28

4

Medical doctors

65

31

4

High school teachers

64

27

7

Policemen

61

31

8

Clergy

54

35

8

Funeral directors

44

42

8

Bankers

41

48

10

Accountants

39

51

7

Journalists

28

44

27

Real estate agents

20

58

20

Building contractors

20

58

19

Lawyers

18

46

35

Labor union leaders

16

43

35

Senators

16

48

35

Business executives

16

52

30

Stockbrokers

16

56

23

Congressmen

14

44

41

Advertising practitioners

11

50

35

Car salesmen

8

41

49

Telemarketers

7

31

60

Gallup first asked the honesty and ethics question in 1976. Since that time, 57 different professions have been rated at one time or another. The following table shows the most positively and most negatively rated professions each year the question was asked.

Year

Most positive

Most negative

1976

Medical doctors (56% very high/high)

Political officeholders (10% low/very low)

1977

Clergy (61%)

Car salesmen (8%)

1981

Clergy (63%)

Car salesmen (6%)

1983

Clergy (64%)

Car salesmen (6%)

1985

Clergy (67%)

Car salesmen (5%)

1988

Pharmacists (66%)

Car salesmen (6%)

1990

Pharmacists (62%)

Car salesmen (6%)

1991

Pharmacists (60%)

Car salesmen (8%)

1992

Pharmacists (66%)

Car salesmen (5%)

1993

Pharmacists (65%)

Car salesmen (6%)

1994

Pharmacists (62%)

Car salesmen (6%)

1995

Pharmacists (66%)

Car salesmen (5%)

1996

Pharmacists (64%)

Car salesmen (8%)

1997

Pharmacists (69%)

Car salesmen (8%)

1998

Pharmacists (64%)

Car salesmen (5%)

1999

Nurses (73%)

Car salesmen (8%)

2000

Nurses (79%)

Car salesmen (7%)

2001

Firefighters (90%)

Car salesmen (8%)

2002

Nurses (79%)

Telemarketers (5%)

2003

Nurses (83%)

Car salesmen (7%)

2004

Nurses (79%)

Car salesmen (9%)

2005

Nurses (82%)

Telemarketers (7%)

Nurses have averaged 80% high honesty ratings since Gallup first asked about the profession in 1999. That is significantly higher than any other profession that has been asked multiple times ("firefighters" was asked just once, following the publicity given that profession after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks). The next highest averages belong to military officers (69%), veterinarians (66%), pharmacists (65%), and high school teachers (64%). Car salesmen (7%) and telemarketers (7%) have the lowest historical average ratings.

Other trends from this year's results:

  • This is the first time bankers have exceeded 40% very high/high ratings. They have received ratings as low as 26%.
  • Pharmacists' ratings dropped slightly this year, to 67% from 72% from last year. The current reading is more in line with the profession's average since Gallup first asked about it in 1981.
  • Medical doctors and policemen have been rated more positively this decade than in previous decades. Doctors have a 65% average from 2000 to 2005, compared with a 54% average from 1976 to 1999. Policemen averaged 46% from 1981 to 1999, and have averaged 60% since then.
  • Clergy ratings have not yet recovered since the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal became an issue. After a 64% rating in 2001, ratings of the clergy's honesty and ethics fell to 52% in 2002 and are at 54% today.
  • Accountants' ratings, on the other hand, have almost fully recovered from the business scandals of 2002. Accountants' ratings went from 41% in 2001 to 32% during the Enron-era scandals and are at 39% today.
  • Business executives had shown some improvement in recent years, but their ratings have fallen back this year. After dropping from 25% in 2001 to 16% in 2002, they inched up to 20% last year. However, this year, they returned to the 16% level.
  • Funeral directors, last asked in 2002, improved from 39% then to 44% now.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 17-20, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects 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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