14 December 2011

Over the last few years bankers have been scorned in public opinion. Once a respected profession, they took a place near the bottom of the list of occupations having public respect and confidence frequently held by politicians. In Britain it would seem that journalists may earn that slot this year as the phone hacking scandal continues to contaminate some elements of the media.

But in the United States politicians continue to be the occupation for which most people show distrust. “Sixty-four percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of members of Congress as ‘low’ or ‘very low’ tying the record ‘low / very low’ rating”  Gallup has measured for any profession historically. Gallup has asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethics of numerous professions since 1976, including annually since 1990.”

Not surprisingly in the poll conducted at the end of November in which Americans rated honesty and ethical standards, nurses, pharmacists, and doctors scored best of the 21 professions tested. At the other end of the spectrum, members of Congress, lobbyists, car salespeople, and telemarketers.were seen as the least honest and ethical. In 2001, 22% rated the honesty and ethics of politicians as very low or low; it is now 64%. They view lobbyists just as poorly.  “Nurses consistently top the list, having done so each year since they were first included in 1999.”

Survey results in New Zealand are similar. Although the Readers Digest ‘trusted occupations’ survey year on year shows that greatest confidence is placed in firefighters, more scientific studies all have nurses, doctors, police officers and teachers in the top positions, in a largely unchanging order.

The UMR Mood of the Nation survey last year ranked 15 occupation. Nurses were top with a rating of 8.6, Public Servants were 8th with 6.2 and politicians at 14th on 4.7. This year’s UMR results should be published later this month. There is unlikely to be much of a change.

Declining voter participation in general elections may reflect this low level of confidence in politicians. However the World Values Survey last conducted in New Zealand 2005 rated confidence in political parties at 25% , not substantially different from findings in comparable surveys in 1985 and 1998.