February 22nd, 2010
10:30 AM ET
12 years ago

CNN Poll: Three-fourths think federal officials not honest

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/21/art.george0221.gi.jpg caption="As the United States marks its first president's birthday, a new poll indicates that 74 percent of the public thinks the father of our country did lie to the public while he served as president."]
Washington (CNN) - Folklore says that George Washington was known for never telling a lie. But as the United States marks its first president's birthday, a new poll indicates that 74 percent of the public thinks the father of our country did lie to the public while he served as president - an indication that Americans think that the government has been broken for a very, very long time.

The CNN/Opinion Corporation survey was released Monday, the 278th anniversary of Washington's birth.

Full results (pdf)

Three quarters of people questioned in the survey think that modern-day federal officials are not honest, a figure that is essentially unchanged since 1994. But the poll suggests that Americans think the problem of dishonesty is not a new one.

And it's not just George Washington. 71 percent think that Abraham Lincoln, known as "Honest Abe," also lied to the public while serving in the White House.

"It's all part of a rich tradition in American history - the belief that politicians are not always telling the truth," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

What should we make of the figures for Washington and Lincoln?

"Part of it may be the recognition that, however much we revere them today, both men were politicians, and Americans are always a little cynical about people seeking office. Part of it may also be a realistic assessment that the president sometimes has to keep things from the public," adds Holland. "But whether it's based on cynicism or realism, or a little of both, it's an indication that Americans think that our government has been broken for many, many years."

According to CNN poll numbers released Sunday, Americans overwhelmingly think that the government in this country is broken, but the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what's broken can be fixed.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted February 12-15, with 1,023 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the overall survey.

–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: CNN poll
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I don't think that it true. There are some federal officials who haven't a clue as to what they are doing while there are many who understand their job and do it to the best of their abilities. We just have to understand how to figure out who is corruptable and how to prevent some of that because it can't all be prevented.

    February 22, 2010 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  2. d

    The questions about Washington and Lincoln are not indications of anything; the respondents were simply being realistic. Every president has told a lie at some point. Every PERSON has told a lie at some point. This poll just points out that people recognize former presidents as human beings, and not deities.

    February 22, 2010 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  3. GI Joe

    How about a poll to see how many people are sick of the endless polls about nonsense?

    February 22, 2010 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  4. dora

    Gee I can't see why our politicans wouldn't tell the truth... Just because they have to have millions to run even a local election and the only way they can get it is by sucking up to big business, but then they need our votes so they tell us what we want to hear even though they can't keep their promises because they have to do what the money people tell them... You want honest politicans? Take the money out of politics. Give them all the same amount of air time, give them all the same amount of print, we could successfully have a multiple (ie more than two) party system if we made it a level playing field. We would also see the return of politicans who want to serve their country, instead of the money grubbers we have now.

    February 22, 2010 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  5. bill

    What a stupid poll.

    February 22, 2010 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  6. Darth Cheney

    What should we make? Simply that people are projecting their own current discontent onto the past, of which we Americans are often spectacularly ignorant.

    February 22, 2010 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  7. CTer

    "I'm a politician, which means I am a liar and a cheat and when I am not kissing babies, I am stealing their lollipops" – Hunt For Red October

    February 22, 2010 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  8. PJ

    I beleive that many (certainly not all) people go to Washington with good, honest intentions. However, once they get there they are corrupted. It's not about lining their own pockets, though many do so. It's about doing favors for the people who contribute to the campaign coffers. In essence, it's about doing whatever it takes to remain in power. Forget about what's good for America. Forget about what the American people really need, want, or can afford. Let's just do whatever we need to do to remainin power!

    Our Founding Fathers would truly be ashamed of what our government has become.

    February 22, 2010 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  9. Kevin in Ohio

    Yet another left wing attack on the founding fathers and great men of the past. I don't care if 74% think this.... the TRUTH is that 100% of them were not even alive then, and therefore I don't think their opinion really matters at all.

    February 22, 2010 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  10. Thelma Heywood

    Obama is right on about blocking health insurance rate hikes. When the Governor of Georgia took office 9 years ago, he switched our educators and state employees from Blue Cross/BS to "his buddies" at United Health Care. During those past 9 years he's given 3 two percent raises to our teachers. Each time, the Governor's buddies at United Health Care raised their rates 10 to 13% and each time they eliminated some perks. The rate hikes alone have dismissed the two percent raises and actually created a 24% pay cut overall. In 9 years, our teachers have had no actual pay raise while cost of living soared. Many of our teachers cannot pay on their student loans. In Title I schools we have provided from our own funds for classroom supplies, teacher supplies, and food for an insufficient reduced and free lunch program that provides pre-k portions even for fifth graders. You won't see fat kids in Title I schools. They are too thin.

    February 22, 2010 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  11. Fed Up

    Ya think????? My father always used to tell us to never donate to any politicians' campaign. He said they are all liars, cheats and thieves. The more I see, the more I know he was correct. After all, buying votes is business as usual, according to Harry Reid.

    February 22, 2010 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  12. Serenia Caldwell

    It is very cynical to think a person is a liar without evidence. What has happened to our country when we think we can trust no one's integrity? Is this now part of our educational system? Are we now taught to be arrogant enough to think only ourselves can be trusted? It is easy to see the downfall from within of a once-wonderful nation.

    February 22, 2010 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  13. Justen in Florida

    They all just say things that the gulable like to hear, so then idiots vote for them. Even know there is no way that they ever plan to keep all those promises.

    Take Obama for example, he promised no more earmarks, but in the first omnibus bill, there were thousands.

    So, most polititians are liers, and that's bad, but what's equally bad is the stupid people who belive all the lies, and elect these people.

    February 22, 2010 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  14. If I was crazy, I'd be a conservative too

    I watch elected officials talk about death panels, socialism, even take credit for jobs created by legislation they voted against, make up stories about weapons of mass destruction, trash the constitution with wiretapping, elevate levels of terrorism to get reelected, vote against funding for government programs like EPA & FDA. filibuster defense budgets, and the list goes on and on. They have earned the distrust we have for them.

    February 22, 2010 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  15. Wes Brewer

    The U. S. government has been all out for the moneyed/landed class since the beginning. To bad when the constitution ruled out title as a means of influence it didn't do the same for money. On the other hand we could of had the misfortune to live in the rest of the world where corruption and lack of personal freedom is institutionalized. My experience with humans in that 100 percent of them have lied at one time or another, including myself. The poll on Lincoln and Washington that says over seventy percent believe they lied while in office means nothing and simply shows the lack of insight into the problems of our early government. No excuses for what our lying, CorpRat controlled, politicians are doing today however.

    February 22, 2010 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  16. Rick McDaniel

    You don't get wealthy in Washington, by doing the honest thing. We all know they aren't honest, ethical, or interested in the citizens of this country.

    February 22, 2010 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  17. Todd

    The question is not whether of not presidents lie by commission or ommission. They ALL do. the question is WHAT DO THEY LIE ABOUT!

    Lying in the national interest is far different than lying to start a war, for example.

    February 22, 2010 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  18. JohnM

    And who exactly keeps electing these turkeys, could it be stupid and ignorant voters?

    February 22, 2010 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  19. Bill from GA

    I would like to see our President issue an executive order against Congressional pay raises in these tough economic times. The scumbags in Congress might over-ride it, but wouldn't you like to see them (on CSPAN) try. Put a face on their shameless greed.


    February 22, 2010 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  20. Enough is Enough

    In terms of dishonesty Obama makes Nixon look like a boy scout.

    February 22, 2010 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  21. Doraine Gordon

    There is no such thing as an honest Politician! I have heard that all of my life. I use to scoff it off as hearsay but have decided it may be true. It seems that we elect so many people and they go into office fully wanting to do what is right. But they just don't seem to be able to do that. Their good intentions get side tracked one way or another. After awhile they either become one of the bunch or get out. Most of them had rather become one of the bunch and reap all the great benefits and that's what they do. Then they turn it into a lifetme job, sit on their behinds, and do nothing for the people. Then when they are carried out, one of their children takes over and the cycle just keeps on going. It is no wonder the American people become so fed up with Politics! I know I have!!!

    February 22, 2010 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  22. Andrew

    The belief that politicians lie is not a problem, because they do. The problem is the belief that businesspeople and/or military personnel don't lie as well.

    February 22, 2010 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  23. Tram

    How can you tell if a lawyer or politician is lying?

    They're mouth's are moving, sound's coming out....

    February 22, 2010 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  24. Stop the Nonsense

    Too bad the article didn mention how the public felt about the government prior to 1994.
    Many may remember that was the year of the Republican takeove ofthe Congress. And before you jump to conclusions, even as a Democrat I see that it shows WHY the voted them in. However, in all the years since, neither party have gotten the trust back.
    Do our leader care? Do we care?
    Despite what are considered high polling numbers 70-80% turnout for voting, we still have relativle few Americans going to the polls becuase they do not register to vote in the first place! Only 124 million votes were cast in the last election. Take out a third of the population as too young and we still had nearly 80 million Americans that did not vote!

    February 22, 2010 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  25. Biggest Liar Of Them All

    Current President. Every Time He Opens His Lips

    February 22, 2010 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
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