Americans Express Little Trust in CEOs of Large Corporations or Stockbrokers

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Four in 10 believe most people can be trusted; teachers are most trusted group

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- This year, scandals have rocked corporate boardrooms, Wall Street, accounting firms, the Catholic Church, and even Major League Baseball. A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll examines how much Americans trust people in general, and how much the public trusts those who belong to particular groups in society. Updating a long-term trend question on trust in others, the poll finds that a majority of Americans continue to be skeptical that most people can be trusted. At the same time, the level of trust in people is somewhat higher than it has been in the recent past. The poll also shows a wide variance in the types of people Americans trust, with business leaders and stockbrokers joining car dealers and HMO managers as the least trusted, while teachers are the most trusted. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, Catholic priests are much less likely to be trusted than Protestant ministers.

Four in 10 Americans Believe Most People Can Be Trusted

The poll, conducted July 5-8, shows that 41% of Americans say that "most people can be trusted," while 57% say "you can't be too careful in dealing with people." Comparing the current data to the long-standing trend data on this question from the General Social Survey, a regular study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, there is a slight increase in trust from February 2000, at which time 35% said they trusted most people. The current 41% level of trust is high when compared to historical data from the General Social Survey. It has not been at this level since February 1989, and has not consistently been over 40% since before Watergate. However, the level of distrust has been fairly consistent -- around 60% for at least the past decade.

Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?

Gallup's data show some interesting demographic differences in trust. Most notably, those with greater levels of education express a much higher level of trust in people than do those with lower levels of education. Roughly six in 10 Americans with a college degree or above believe most people can be trusted, compared with 42% of those with some college education, and just 27% of those with a high school education or less.

Public Trust: By Education Level
July 5-8, 2002

Older Americans tend to place more trust in people as well. Those above the age of 50 are nearly as likely to say that most people can be trusted as to say that you can't be too careful in dealing with people. Among those between the ages of 30-49, just four in 10 say they trust most people, and among those between the ages of 18-29 only three in 10 say this.

Public Trust: By Age Group
July 5-8, 2002

Trust in Big Business Relatively Low

The overall level of trust in people hides a great deal of variation in the trust Americans have in specific types of people. The poll asked the public to say whether most members in particular groups can be trusted, or if one can't be too careful in dealing with members of those groups. The results appear below.

SUMMARY TABLE: GROUPS THAT CAN BE TRUSTED

 

 

2002 Jul 5-8
(sorted by "most can be trusted")

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

%

%

Teachers

84

15

Middle class people

75

21

People who run small businesses

75

22

Military officers

73

24

Police officers

71

26

Coaches of youth sports

68

28

Poor people

67

28

Protestant ministers

66

26

Doctors

66

31

Accountants

51

44

Professional athletes

48

45

Catholic priests

45

48

Rich people

43

51

Journalists

38

58

Government officials

26

69

Lawyers

25

70

Stockbrokers

23

68

CEOs of large corporations

23

73

Managers of HMOs

20

72

Car dealers

15

81



Clearly, the recent wave of corporate scandals has done little to engender faith in the executives of large companies. Only 23% of Americans say that CEOs of large corporations can be trusted, while 73% say you cannot be too careful in dealing with them. Stockbrokers are viewed similarly, with only 23% of the public saying you can trust most of them. Car dealers (at 15%) and managers of HMOs (at 20%) are the only two groups tested that rank lower than CEOs and stockbrokers.

Relatively speaking, accountants perform well. Despite the fact that accounting irregularities are at the heart of some of the recent business scandals, 51% of Americans say most accountants can be trusted. And it is clear the lack of trust in CEOs does not extend to all business managers. Three out of four Americans say that most people who run small businesses can be trusted.

Public Trust in Business Professions
July 5-8, 2002

Americans are far less likely to say they trust most "rich people" (43%) than to say they trust "poor people" (67%) or "middle class people" (75%).

Among the groups tested, teachers are the most trusted group -- 84% of Americans say most teachers can be trusted. Military officers (73%), police officers (71%), coaches of youth sports (68%) and doctors (66%) are also accorded high levels of trust by the public. In addition to car dealers and HMO managers, lawyers (25%), government officials (26%), and journalists (38%) rank low on the trust measure. The public is divided as to whether most professional athletes can be trusted, with 48% believing they can and 45% being less trustful. This mixed opinion about professional athletes may reflect recent allegations that many Major League Baseball players use performance-enhancing drugs.

Catholic Priests Not Given a High Level of Trust

The poll shows a gap in the level of trust Americans place in religious clergy. Sixty-six percent of Americans say most Protestant ministers can be trusted, but the level of trust in Catholic priests is just 45%. Forty-eight percent of Americans say that you cannot be too careful in dealing with priests. This is most likely due to the problem of sexual abuse of young people by priests that has plagued the Catholic Church this year.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,013 adults, 18 years and older, conducted July 5-8, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 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.

Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Jul 5-8

41

57

1

1

National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago

2000 Feb

35

57

7

1

1998 Feb

38

56

6

*

1996 Feb

34

61

5

*

1994 Jan

34

61

4

*

1993 Feb

36

60

4

--

1991 Feb

38

57

5

--

1990 Feb

38

58

4

--

1989 Feb

41

55

4

--

1988 Feb

39

56

4

1

1987 Feb

44

52

4

--

1986 Feb

37

60

3

--

1984 Feb

48

49

3

--

1983 Feb

37

59

4

*

1978 Feb

39

57

4

--

1976 Feb

44

52

4

--

1975 Feb

39

56

4

*

1973 Feb

46

51

3

--

1972 Feb

46

50

3

1



For each of the following groups, please tell me whether most of the people in them can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with them? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

ITEMS A-I: BASED ON --509-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

ITEMS J-K: BASED ON FULL SAMPLE

ITEMS L-T: BASED ON --504-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

A. Accountants

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

51%

44

2

3



B. CEOs of large corporations

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

23%

73

2

2



C. Catholic priests

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

45%

48

2

5



D. Doctors

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

66%

31

2

1



E. Managers of Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

20%

72

3

5



F. Police officers

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

71%

26

2

1



    1. Poor People

     

     

    Most can be trusted

    Can't be
    too careful

    OTHER/DEPENDS
    (vol.)

    No
    opinion

    2002 Jul 5-8

    67%

    28

    3

    2



  1. Rich people
  2.  

     

    Most can be trusted

    Can't be
    too careful

    OTHER/DEPENDS
    (vol.)

    No
    opinion

    2002 Jul 5-8

    43%

    51

    2

    4



  3. Middle class people

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

75%

21

3

1



J. Car dealers

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

15%

81

2

2



K. People who run small businesses

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

75%

22

2

1



L. Professional athletes

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

48%

45

3

4



M. Protestant ministers

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

66%

26

2

6



N. Military officers

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

73%

24

1

2



O. Lawyers

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

25%

70

3

2



P. Coaches of youth sports

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

68%

28

1

3



Q. Government officials

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

26%

69

3

2



R. Journalists

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

38%

58

2

2



S. Stockbrokers

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

23%

68

2

7



T. Teachers

 

 

 

Most can be trusted

Can't be
too careful

OTHER/DEPENDS
(vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Jul 5-8

84%

15

*

1



 

* -- Less than 0.5%

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/6421/Americans-Express-Little-Trust-CEOs-Large-Corporations-Stockbrokers.aspx
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