Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Poll: Majorities See Widespread Corruption

ABC News
Poll: Majorities See Widespread Corruption
Most People Want Tougher Lobbying Restrictions

Jan. 9, 2006 — - Nearly six in 10 Americans see lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea deal as a sign of widespread corruption in Washington, and a majority supports legislation that, if enacted, would end political lobbying as it's currently practiced.

The political fallout of the still-evolving case is unclear -- at this stage, neither party holds an advantage in perceptions of its ethics and honesty. But there could be benefit in getting in front on reform: A whopping nine in 10 Americans across the political spectrum favor banning lobbyists from giving members of Congress anything of value.

Abramoff pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy and fraud charges in an unfolding scandal in which investigators are reported to be focusing on six or more members of Congress and as many congressional aides. While a third of Americans see his case as limited to a few corrupt individuals, 58 percent call it evidence of widespread corruption in Washington.

That view could be influenced by other recent criminal cases involving federal officials -- the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on campaign finance charges, and even the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in the CIA leak investigation (a false statement, not corruption, case). Indeed, most Americans see corruption as an endemic problem in Washington, but a limited one, confined to a few corrupt individuals, in their state and local governments.

This poll also finds a growing sense (albeit not held by a majority) that innate dishonesty among Congress members is part of the problem: Forty-four percent now think members of Congress are more dishonest than most people, up from 33 percent in a 1993 poll. While 52 percent say they're about equally honest (perhaps more tempted, though), that's down from 65 percent 13 years ago.

Members of Congress, Compared to Most People
Now 1993
More honest 2% 2%
More dishonest 44% 33%
About the same 52% 65%


Abramoff (like DeLay) is a Republican, and the Democrats have sought to turn the ethics issue to their advantage. There's no sign yet that it's working: Essentially, no more people say the Democrats are more ethical and honest than the Republicans (15 percent) as say the opposite (11 percent). Nearly three-quarters, instead, say there's not much difference between them.

Indeed, this skepticism engenders rare bipartisanship. About six in 10 Democrats say there's no real difference in honesty and ethics between the parties, so do seven in 10 Republicans and even more independents, 84 percent. Similarly, about seven in 10 liberals and conservatives alike agree on this point, as do nearly eight in 10 moderates.

Overall, congressional approval is low (41 percent), but about matches its 2005 average. If Congress needs to watch its back on ethics, so does George W. Bush: A slim majority, 52 percent, disapproves of the way he's handling ethics in government.

Limiting Lobbying

The public's dim view of Washington ethics is backed by broad support for legislation to ban lobbying largess. As noted, 90 percent would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to members of Congress. Two-thirds also would bar lobbyists from making direct campaign contributions. And 54 percent would make it illegal for lobbyists even to organize fund-raisers on behalf of congressional candidates.

The first two proposals win support from majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. Republicans, though, are evenly split on whether lobbyists should be allowed to organize fundraisers, while most Democrats and independents would ban it.

State and Local

As noted, on ethics and honesty in government, as in other matters, public suspicions are focused more on Washington than on state and local governments.

While nearly six in 10 see the Abramoff case as evidence of widespread corruption in Washington, fewer suspect widespread corruption in their state (35 percent) and local (27 percent) governments; most there instead see it as isolated.

Republicans are the least likely to see widespread corruption at each level of government. Among other groups, young adults are less likely than their elders to see widespread corruption at the federal level, or to support legislation limiting lobbying in Washington.

Widespread Limited
Federal 58% 34%
State 35% 60%
Local 27% 68%


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 5-8, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.