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. Squigman

    What planet are the other 25% from?

    February 22, 2010 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  2. chris24

    they aren't honest because that is the culture
    created by the party bosses.

    They try to keep credibility by lying and manipulating
    facts and figures.

    It's time to throw them all out and start over.

    The middle need to assert itself. Forget the
    right and left. Half of this country is the middle
    half and we should be able to get our own
    people, who are unbeholden to the far right and far left,

    Let's take this SOB back from these freaks.

    February 22, 2010 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  3. jack

    Do those same 3/4rds understand that is big business that is buying big government, and that Obama is the only one trying to save them from this? Think how business has shaped the watering down of healthcare, banking laws, and frankly has duped people to beleive it's big government's fault. By the way, thanks CNN for perpetuating this idea.

    February 22, 2010 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  4. Al Granizo

    More than 80 per cent of Americans are saying that our government is broken. Allow me to enlighten them with the old truisms: "Absolute Power corrupts absolutely...and: "What profits a man that he gain the world and lose his soul". Instead of sounding a collective moan, as we allow them to remain in office, we should not be afraid to vote those shysters out of office instead of being fooled by 400 dollar haircuts and tailor-made suits.

    February 22, 2010 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  5. Beth from Oregon

    Is this really news? Do we really need to be told that politicians were/are just in it for the power and/or money and will tell us anything to get into office?

    February 22, 2010 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  6. russell porter

    Please CNN,I don't know why you guys are not covering the political news appropriately,are current president has had excellent ideas for the nation,health-care jobsbill,recovery act,and you guys seen bent on throwing him in the mix with the rest of them,common guys your contributing to the cause by confusing the masses,that's why we had dummy as president for the first part of the decade.but you guys have problem about show president clinton's personnel issue.pleas stop it or you will help the right elect another dummy as commander and chief,and let's more about the last great crash,you know 1987? I think a republican was president then,be the news not a fox affliate,thanks,

    February 22, 2010 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  7. Case

    Yeah they are all liars. Especially the GOP heads on the floor yelling and crying about the stimilus funds then using that money. If it is so bad why are they taking it.

    February 22, 2010 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  8. Publius13

    You guys are too much. How do you get from our presidents have occasionally lied, or told less than the absolute unvarnished truth, to the government being broken? What are we demanding here? Abosolute honesty, truthfulness, and willingness to accept low pay for extended periods of time, while being savaged in the press and by opponents? Get real. The government is not broken. It is run and staffed by human beings who have the same flaws and foibles as everyone else. It's a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    February 22, 2010 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  9. Pres

    Of course politicians lie, but I'm not sure that necessarily means that government is broken. To be a leader, I think that it takes a certain amount of discretion as to what information is shared with the general public. The choices made by Washington and Lincoln saved the union during times of vulnerability. Their discretion was obviously justified.

    February 22, 2010 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  10. Andi

    It's not just politicians. As a society, we seem to think lying and cheating are ok if you don't get caught and it helps you get 'ahead'. We may give lip-service to honesty and integrity when our children are in earshot, but our actions speak louder than our words, my friends.

    I don't know if this will get posted. It seems when I post early, my comments disappear.

    February 22, 2010 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  11. Faulpelz

    If you know your civil war history, you will also realize that honest Abe kept his son Robert from harm's way in the war against the south by telling commanders that they would be out of a job if his son were put into battle; this act alone, if brought to light during the war, would have brought the wrath of northern women whose sons had died in battle to save the union.

    February 22, 2010 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  12. J.Crobuzon

    Actually I suspect that this poll is biased and inaccurate.

    February 22, 2010 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  13. Allen

    Whenever you see a poll like this, ask yourself why? What are CNN and Ted trying to do with this poll? Are they attempting to bring the founding fathers "down a notch"? Abe Lincoln "down a notch as well"? If so, to what end?

    February 22, 2010 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  14. Jesse Callahan

    If he is a politician, then yes. He is a liar. All politicians are naturally born liars. They have to be in order to appease their potential constituents.

    Jesse in Texas

    February 22, 2010 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  15. Mike McCready

    Regarding the opinions the public has about the truthfulness of Washington and Lincoln, do the respondents cite specific examples of alleged lies or is it just a "feeling" they have about it? I guess I'd be surprised if the majority of Americans know enough details about either presidency to cite specific examples.

    I think it's easy for elected officials to lie to the public because getting at the truth is so hard with people getting their news from FOX and Rush. These days we not only get opinions from our news sources but also made up facts. No one knows what to believe. I remember growing up and hearing about how lucky we were not to live in the Soviet Union where the population could not get the truth from their media. Now it's the same here.

    February 22, 2010 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  16. Dean

    I have no idea whether Washington or Lincoln lied. But it is very telling that so many people are willing to state 'belief' as reality. Shows that our educational system is failing – not just government. Critical thinking skills are almost non-existent (yet, everybody thinks they possess them!)

    February 22, 2010 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  17. jerseylou

    The only people that don't think the Federal Government Officals are liers are the people who are already working in it .

    February 22, 2010 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  18. Scott, Tucson

    WOW! 3/4th huh? Those numbers seems kind of low considering who we got in Congress and in the White House.

    February 22, 2010 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  19. Mary Richards

    Specifics, please. Don't just speculate as to what you think Washington and Lincoln may have done as politicians. Keep in mind that Washington did not seek office. It was thrust upon him. Both men were known for their deep spirituality and companion for humanity. Lincoln was not an atheist, despite numerous attempts to make him so. Don't try to rewrite history with inuendos.

    February 22, 2010 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  20. Welcome to Rome

    Thats why the great experiment will be a failure,as long as we have liars,especially with money involved,the system will collapse.We really dont have rights,they are just temporary privleges.

    February 22, 2010 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  21. Puuuleeeezzzzz!

    I don't know about George and Abe, that was a long time ago and all you get is heresay today. What I can tell you is that in my opinion, Sarah Palin is a liar without a doubt in my mind!

    February 22, 2010 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  22. Sam Sixpack

    Is this piece supposed to make us feel better about our current liar-in-chief? Its not working.

    February 22, 2010 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  23. Bill

    This cracks me up; a poll in which people say they believe Lincoln was a liar. Okay, great. What's next? Do we need to know how many people believe Noah's Ark was real?

    CNN, I KNOW you have to have SOMETHING to post on your web site, but for the love of Pete, how about something substantive vs. the CNN "journalism" (and I use that word loosely) version of "Survivor"?

    February 22, 2010 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  24. Pat in IL

    What were the lies? That would be much more interesting than just numbers of a poll.

    February 22, 2010 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  25. If it walks like a duck.....

    What the heck is wrong with the other 25%??? Everyone knows that they are ALL LIARS.

    February 22, 2010 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
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