Gallup Claims Diminished Trust in the Ethics of Professions in the U.S.A.

Gallup Claims Trust in the Ethics of Nearly All Professions Down in the United States
by Victor Perton

The recent findings from Gallup's 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll present a sobering view of the public's trust in the ethics of the "professions" across the United States. 

Overview of Gallup's Findings

Gallup's survey, a litmus test for public opinion on professional ethics since 1976, in its 2023 iteration, paints a grim picture. The poll highlights a significant decline in the perceived honesty and ethics of nearly all 23 professions surveyed. Nurses, consistently seen as paragons of trustworthiness, maintained their top position, albeit with a decreased rating. In stark contrast, professions such as members of Congress, senators, and journalists hit new lows, signalling a pervasive sense of ethical disenchantment among the American populace.

Factors Contributing to the Decline

Several factors contribute to this decline. A growing public scepticism, partly fueled by a relentless news cycle and social media, plays a critical role. Political polarization, magnifying distrust towards professions seen as ideologically aligned, further exacerbates the situation. Additionally, the economic challenges and societal shifts experienced in recent years have likely eroded the public's faith in institutions traditionally viewed as ethical bastions.

The Role of Media and the Fog of Pessimism

The modern media landscape, with its propensity for sensationalism and the rapid dissemination of information (and misinformation), significantly influences public perception. In an age where negative news is more prevalent and accessible, professionals often find their mistakes and ethical lapses amplified, overshadowing the positive aspects of their work. This 'fog of pessimism' created by media, government and the PR industry can obscure professionals' positive aspects and everyday ethical conduct.

Impact of Political Polarization

American political polarization may be a contributing factor. The survey reveals stark differences in the perception of professions based on political affiliations. This phenomenon indicates that trust in professional ethics is increasingly viewed through a partisan lens, reflecting the broader political divide in the country.

Evolution of Public Expectations

Public expectations of what constitutes ethical behaviour in professional settings have evolved. With a growing awareness of issues such as corruption and professional misconduct, professions are being held to higher standards than ever before. This evolving benchmark could partly explain why even the traditionally trusted professions are now viewed with a more critical eye.

What Can Be Done? The Role of Optimism

In addressing the challenges of declining trust in the ethics of various professions, the concept of 'magnetic optimism' emerges as a transformative approach. This form of optimism is active and engaging, drawing others into proactive participation in our planet's future. In my workshops, leaders are empowered to shape themselves into embodiments of this infectious optimism, crafting narratives of hope that shimmer with promise. By embracing "magnetic optimism," leaders become constellations, igniting their teams with a shared purpose and creating luminous trails of positivity that ripple outward. It's an optimism so tangible and alluring that it inspires people to reach out and touch a future brimming with possibilities, guiding innovators and leaders in inspiring their communities to craft a better tomorrow.

Australian Studies

While there's no direct equivalent to Gallup's US study on professional ethics in Australia, several  surveys shed light on Australians' perceptions. Research by Roy Morgan regularly ranks professions based on ethics and honesty, with healthcare workers currently topping the list. Meanwhile, the Governance Institute of Australia's Ethics Index tracks public trust and highlights rising expectations alongside a "gap" between what Australians value and perceive in reality. Interestingly, both studies showcase fire services, ambulance workers, and pharmacists as highly trusted professions, while real estate agents, politicians, and advertising/marketing workers tend to rank lower. These surveys offer valuable insights into Australian perspectives on professional ethics, even if they don't directly mirror Gallup's US focus.


Gallup's 2023 poll, while serving as a critical wake-up call, also raises fundamental questions about the current state of ethics in American professions. The declining trust observed in the survey prompts us to ask: Has there indeed been a tangible decline in ethical standards, or are we witnessing the effects of a 'fog of pessimism' perpetuated by media and societal perceptions? This dichotomy highlights the urgent need for ethical introspection and a balanced assessment of professional conduct across the United States. It is essential to discern whether these findings reflect a real ethical crisis or an amplified perception shaped by negative biases and heightened scrutiny.

Furthermore, this scenario leads to another crucial question: Is there any way of reforming the divisive and dystopian present portrayed by the news media? Addressing this question involves the media and society re-evaluating how news is produced, consumed, shared, and interpreted. It calls for a concerted effort to promote media literacy, encourage balanced reporting, and foster a culture of constructive dialogue rather than division.

Addressing these questions is not only crucial for the professions in question but also for understanding and navigating the broader societal context. As we move forward, the challenge lies in fostering an environment where ethical standards are not only upheld but also fairly and accurately recognized, contributing to the health and integrity of American society. The insights from Australian studies, in comparison, offer a valuable global perspective, indicating that these issues of perception and trust in professional ethics are not unique to the United States but are part of a broader international conversation.

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