In November of 2005, the Gallup Organization polled Americans on their views of various professions. Specifically, the poll asked people to rate twenty-one professions on their honesty and ethical standards. Public perception of professions is interesting because it answers the question “who does the public trust?” Such information can be used for a variety of purposes: for example, advertisers can use the information to determine who is best suited for commercials. If people trust nurses more than any other profession, maybe using a nurse in a television commercial will be especially convincing. Changes in public perception are also interesting – these kinds of polls, if repeated from year to year can answer questions like “how and why did public perception of a particular profession change since last year?”
In this particular polling of twenty-one professions, the evaluation called for people to rate according to a five point scale – from “very high” to “very low” in each profession’s honesty and ethical standards. The pollsters then calculated the percentage of “high ethical ratings” for each profession – the ratio of people who rated a particular profession “highly” ethical to those that rated the profession neutral or not ethical. The pollsters also calculated the percentage of “low ethical ratings” for each profession – the ratio of people who rated a particular profession “dishonest” or “unethical” to those that rated the profession neutral or ethical.
In the end, nurses were rated far and away the most ethical profession with 82% of those polled giving them a high ethical rating. The next most ethical profession was pharmacist with 67% of people giving them a high ethical rating. Rounding out the top five were medical doctors (65%), high school teachers (64%), and policemen (61%) as the top five most honest and ethical professions. There was only one more profession, clergy (54%), which received a majority of high responses.
On the other side of the spectrum, telemarketers received the most “low” ethical rating responses, followed by car salesmen. For both professions a majority of the people polled, responded that car salesmen and telemarketers were “unethical” or “dishonest.” Other “dishonest” professions included Advertising Practitioners, Congressmen, and Stockbrokers.
An important question that follows from such data is how do Americans make such judgments? Did people base their responses on personal experience or on how they believe society feels toward the professions? That is, did each individual respondent represent him or herself or did each respondent try to represent society?
Most likely, people did some of both; however, they rely much more heavily on society. For the most part, people do not have frequent and direct contact with car salesmen. Maybe people buy a car once every three years. More likely than not, they will not remember the person who sold them the car. Even if they do, it is unlikely that they will be able to judge the car salesman’s honesty or ethical standards unless their car breaks down or they directly find out that the salesmen was a liar. Instead, people rely on the stereotype of the car salesman – a conniving cheat whose only motivation in life is to make money. The car salesman does not care whether or not the car is fit to be driven; he only cares about making money. The stereotype most likely grew from a pool of personal experiences; however, today part of American culture is to distrust car salesmen.
On the other hand, nurses can do no wrong in the public eye. The most common metaphor for nurses is that they are mothers. They are the most involved in taking care of patients – patients see nurses more than they see doctors and nurses do the work that no one else will do (clean bed pans, bring food, keep the patients company). Further, nurses have nothing to gain from taking advantage of their patients. They cannot make money off their patients by keeping them in the hospital longer or encouraging them to leave sooner, so the public is not suspicious of their motivations.
The results of the poll clearly demonstrate that the American public is suspicious of professions in which sales are involved and extremely supportive of professions that involve caretaking. The trend represents a collective opinion. Most people have had both good and bad experiences with caretakers like doctors and nurses and both good and bad experiences with salesmen; however, since the motivation behind caretaking professions is much more noble than the motivation behind professions involving sales, people disregard their personal experiences and reflect the common view.
One final indication that personal experience is less important than societal views for people responding to the polls is that, generally, the ratings do not change from year to year. The Huffington Post reported immediately after the Gallop Organization poll was released (December 5, 2005), saying that the results, for the most part, “showed little change from their last readings.” Individual experiences with doctors and personal feelings towards them probably vary from year to year; however, on the whole, people respond the same on the polls. Americans have a common idea about who they can and cannot trust as far as professions are concerned. These ideas are much less influenced by their personal experiences than by society. In responding to the Gallop poll, people relied much more heavily on the perception of society as a whole rather their personal experience.