Public Perception of Political and Business Ethics

In the March AEI Political Report, a compilation of various polls of public opinion is presented to give a composite view of America’s perception of its current state of affairs. The Report includes perceptions about Obama, personal finance as well as economic trends, taxation, global warming, balance of power, the current international hot spots Iran, Cuba, and Afghanistan, job satisfaction, and even a parental do and don’t list.

In this post, ethics will be the focus.

The trend of public opinion about honesty in politics has has steadily declined since the 1940s. In 1948, Americans were asked whether it was almost impossible for a person to stay honest after entering into politics. Forty-eight percent (48%) agreed that it was. By 1997, 55% said it was nearly impossible to remain honest in politics. Twelve years later 55% said the ethical standards of Congressmen and Congresswomen were very low, while only 9% said they were high. Although the question was different, the perception of political corruption remained the same.

I wonder whether the 36% were too afraid to say what they believed.

The general public perception of business ethics didn’t fare any better.
Although the survey data did not provide a historical perspective like was seen above, it did reveal how low a view Americans have of business management compared to helping profession like nursing and law enforcement.

In 2002, Americans (34%) regarded CEOs more ethical than they did in 2009. In fact, the percent of Americans who regarded CEOs as ethical dropped to 22 percent. Maybe the Enron scandal was factor. Nevertheless, the figures also reveal that 66% American regard CEOs are scoundrels.

Compared to bankers, car salesmen, stockbrokers, politicians, HMO managers, and insurance sales people, CEOs are nearly saints. Of the lot, 12% of Americans said bankers were ethical. Less than 10% of American considered any of the rest as ethical.

These poll results tell us that Americans are willing to put up with both a corrupt system of governance as well as corrupt marketplace. Why?

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