Trump Rated Worse Than Other Modern-Day Presidents on Ethics

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A majority of Americans say President Donald Trump’s ethical standards are lower than those of each of six U.S. presidents elected in the past 50 years. Less than half say Trump’s ethics are lower than Richard Nixon’s, but the 43% saying this still outweighs the 37% who say Trump’s ethics are higher than Nixon’s.

Bar charts showing the public’s views of Trump’s ethical standards as lower than the last seven elected U.S. presidents.

The Sept. 3-9 Gallup poll asked how Trump’s ethical standards compare with those of seven of his eight predecessors. Trump fares worst in relation to Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush, each of whom has a greater-than 2-to-1 advantage over Trump in perceptions of having higher vs. lower ethics. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have smaller, but still sizable, advantages over Trump in the public’s perceptions of their ethical standards. Nixon is the closest to being on par with Trump.

Nixon, who was charged with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress as a result of his involvement in the Watergate scandal, is the only U.S. president to resign from office, which he did in 1974, before his expected impeachment. Clinton was impeached in 1998 on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but he was acquitted when his case went to trial in the Senate.

Similar percentages of Americans think Trump’s ethical standards are higher than Clinton’s and Nixon’s. However, significantly more say Trump’s ethics are below Clinton’s than below Nixon’s. This is accounted for by higher percentages saying Trump’s ethics are the same as Nixon’s, or who are unsure.

Gallup asked this question about Clinton in 1997, before the revelations about his involvement with Lewinsky but during the investigation into the Whitewater real estate matter. Respondents at that time were asked to compare Clinton’s ethics with those of Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush. Majorities said Clinton’s ethical standards were lower than Carter’s, Reagan’s and the elder Bush’s, but Clinton was viewed as more ethical than Nixon, albeit by less than half of Americans.

Americans Rate Ethical Standards of Bill Clinton Compared With Other Presidents
Are Bill Clinton’s ethical standards higher or lower than those of each of the following when he was president?
Clinton’s ethics are higher Clinton’s ethics are lower Same (vol.) No opinion
% % % %
Jimmy Carter 18 61 14 7
George H.W. Bush 27 56 13 4
Ronald Reagan 29 54 14 3
Richard Nixon 47 30 15 8
(vol.) = volunteered response
GALLUP, April 18-20, 1997

Partisans Views of Trump’s Ethical Standards Diverge

Trump has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct since before he took office, and the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia continues. Yet more than eight in 10 Republicans still approve of the job he is doing.

Republicans are much more likely to say Trump’s ethical standards are higher than those of Democratic presidents Obama (73% say Trump’s are higher) and Clinton (78%), and are modestly more likely to say Trump’s ethics are higher rather than lower compared with Carter’s (47% higher, 36% lower).

However, Republicans do not rate Trump’s ethics universally more positively compared with previous GOP presidents. Republicans on balance view Trump’s ethical standards as lower than those of George H.W. Bush and Reagan, but higher than those of George W. Bush and Nixon.


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