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. candi

    NO KIDDING push a healthcare program that they are not on and tell us how it will save America,let them Obama/all washington go on it and I will follow.

    February 22, 2010 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  2. Brian

    Why does CNN not give us the whole poll including the demographic of the responders and their political affiliation. Clicking on "full results pdf" gives you only the question regarding broken government and numbers the question 37. Where are the other 36 questions?

    February 22, 2010 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  3. Jimmy

    Nice damage control effort by CNN. Three quarters of the country are unhappy with the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House, and CNN is trying to make it look like Washington and Lincoln weren't any better than our current president. Washington and Lincoln were heads and shoulders above President Obama, period.

    February 22, 2010 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  4. K-Street is the problem

    Oh yeah, I forgot:
    It also helps that the major commercial media outlets get a clue and actually work to inform the people, rather than confuse and misinform.

    After all, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and other hyper-partisan outlets operate solely to confuse and misinform the public. That way, if the public is not told the truth, the VOTING public will continue to be clueless and the status quo is perpetuated.

    So CNN you have to get your act together as well.

    February 22, 2010 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  5. Howard

    In my opinion, it's indicative of widespread naivete among American voters. First of all, darn few of those responding so cynically can ever say they have never cheated on their taxes or lied to avoid jury duty, yet they somehow expect public officials to be as pure as the driven snow. Second of all, political "truths" are not always absolutes like simple arithmetic. Political truths are often only valid when they suit the preconceived notions of the person hearing them. That's why historians can't always agree in their assessments of past Presidents.

    If our government is broken, no small part of the blame rests with the American voters, their naivete, and their readiness to punish politicians who do tell the truth. Case in point, Walter Mondale, in a debate with Ronald Reagan, admitted tax increases might be necessary. Reagan denied it. The rest is history. Mondale went down to defeat, and President Reagan had to raise taxes.

    February 22, 2010 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  6. Jesus

    In what Orwellian world does the opinion of the largely uneducated American public regarding Lincoln's honesty somehow become the "fact" that Abe was dishonest?

    February 22, 2010 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  7. Doug,lib jersey

    ...and the other 25% are liberal Democrats who have not had even a moment of honesty in their entire existence.

    February 22, 2010 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  8. Anon

    Politicians are usually lawyers and lawyers are the biggest bunch of liars in the world. What is REALLY scary is that the supreme court is made up of lawyers and they get life terms. Why do we want a bunch of lying lawyers controlling our lives for their entire life? We need to limit ALL political office terms to 2 to help keep them honest or make it easy to replace the really bad ones.

    February 22, 2010 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  9. Chicago 11

    This is an unsatisfying poll. What constitutes "lies'? White lies or substantive lies? Without a context this isn't helpful.

    February 22, 2010 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  10. SLM

    Who are the 1/4 that think they are? It is amazing that anyone would actually trust anything those people say. Our president is on tape making lie after lie and nobody seems to question him on it.

    February 22, 2010 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  11. All a Joke

    Get real, they all LIE, Democrats, Republicans.....I am done with all of them.

    February 22, 2010 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  12. Bobby Mukaisu

    No president in US history to date has thown the constitution on the ground, stomped on it and taken a dump on it the way Abe Lincoln did. His "save the union at all costs" philosophy led to this behavior and should not be repeated. If the union is as rotten as is evidenced by the behavior of congress and our central government of late then good riddance to it. His actions are the main reason our federal government is as strong and uncontrollable as it is. This was not the intention of the founding fathers and is the chief reason why our government is out of control.
    Why is it that this man is so revered when he unleashed his army to burn, steal, rape, pillage and kill everything in sight in our own country. I was raised in the south and would not have been for leaving the union during the civil war, but his actions during the war and especially after it made him an object of hatred for generations of southerners and rightly so.

    February 22, 2010 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  13. Sam Sixpack

    The exact question was, "Do you think George Washington EVER lied to the public while he was President?"

    Are you making excuses for the current liar-in-chief - again?

    February 22, 2010 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  14. Anonymous

    I now feel dumber after reading that.

    February 22, 2010 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. Josh McBride

    Of course Washington lied, and his motives were obvious – to win a revolution. You think the general of a revolutionary army would enjoy victory after victory against the most powerful empire in the world? The revolutionary cause would have died early had the American people been told the brutal truth about how the Continental Army was getting trounced. Yes, politicians lie – but that doesn't mean every single one of them is a snake in the grass.

    February 22, 2010 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  16. Richard L

    Thinking that George Washington lied is not an indication that the government was broken then, but an indication that George Washington was a human being.

    February 22, 2010 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  17. Butch

    Lies are deceptions, pure and simply. Obama has been deceiving us in his rhetoric and now in his governing. He campaigned with deceptions, giving us promises that he never kept. Check them out yourself!
    Since in office, Government has taken control of our privately held auto industry.... taken control of our financial institutions.... and now wants to control the Health Care System! THIS IS NOTHING SHORT OF the GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER OF OUR LIVES! It's SOCIALISM!

    This is a perfect Letter to the Editor, especially if this doesn't get printed here.

    February 22, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  18. RealityKing

    Yes, the government has been broken for a very, very long time. Of course its only been for the last 70 yrs that the Federal government began stealing from the public too.

    February 22, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  19. demwit

    I wonder why CNN's progressive polling director didn't ask how many people think Obama lied? NOT!!

    February 22, 2010 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  20. puffery

    No politician is honest on 99% of what he says today. During Washington's time about 50-50 of what was said was honest and factual.

    February 22, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  21. Jim Norris

    I don't think that either Washington or Lincolin lied while they were President

    February 22, 2010 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  22. JA/TN

    it is called human nature, folk think for the good of the people some untruth will not hurt

    February 22, 2010 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  23. Always a Conservative

    NO one can say for sure whether or not George Washington lied. There is no one alive today that was alive then so any thing today is just pure speculation. Since I have been alive and able to remember, there has not been a President that has not lied in many many years. The most honest that I can remember is Ronald Reagan. He has to be the best all-time President. The worst Presidents ever to take oath have all been democrats. To be a politician, it appears you must lie. Scott Brown is the only exception thus far. I sure hope he is the "New kind of politician."

    February 22, 2010 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  24. Nita

    I agree 100% with the polls. But the sad thing is that what goes around comes around. Under Bush people were afraid to complain.
    Now everyone has an opinion. Obama is the good president and everyone feels free to complain and cry FREEDOM. But they are blaming the wrong guy.

    February 22, 2010 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  25. Minnesotan

    Of course federal officials aren't honest! Look at the library of lies put forth by the Bush Administration, the Tea Party losers, the conservatives, the wing-nuts, the neo-cons and the people stupid enough to swallow their manure instead of actually reading facts and acknowledging history and reality.

    February 22, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
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