An end-of-year poll released by Gallup measures public perceptions of the honesty and ethics of 22 professions, and it shows no stalling of the steady decline in public trust enjoyed by members of the clergy.
Gallup has measured Americans’ views on the honesty and ethics of the clergy 33 times dating back to 1977. Although the overall average positive rating is 55%, it has fallen below that level since 2009. This year marks the lowest rating to date, with 42% saying the clergy has “very high” or “high” honesty and ethical standards. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985.
Views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped precipitously in 2002 amid the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. While positive ratings of the clergy’s honesty and integrity rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since then.
Political differences affect the way in which people responded to the survey, and again, the numbers for clergy followed that trend. Republicans were 18% more likely than Democrats, and 24% more likely than Independents, to rank the honesty and ethics of clergy as high or very high.
Even among self-reported Christians, according to a Christianity Today analysis, trust in the clergy is below 50%. According to CT’s analysis, identifying as Republican was a greater indicator for ranking clergy as honest and ethical than identifying as a Christian.
Medical professionals continued to earn high trust from the people surveyed, as did military and police officers. TV and newspaper reporters ranked in the lower half of the graph, but not as low as members of Congress, who came in just above car salespeople and lobbyists. The Gallup report closes on a note of caution for clergy.
While the clergy are not at the bottom of the list of professions, this year’s ratings represent a new low for a profession with image problems in recent years.
Read the rest of Gallup’s recent research here.