A new survey shows that nearly six in 10 Americans believe the level of government corruption has risen in the year since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected and that the White House is now a more corrupt institution than Congress.
Berlin-based Transparency International says its survey of 1,000 Americans in October and November revealed that 44 percent believe that Trump and White House officials are corrupt, up from 36 percent recorded in a similar survey in early 2016 at the start of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s last year in office.
The Trump White House responded Tuesday by saying it has acted to end corruption and increase transparency in government.
The anti-corruption group says nearly seven of 10 of those it surveyed believe the U.S. government is failing to fight corruption, up from half in 2016. The group defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.
“I think the survey shows that Americans are disappointed that the government has not delivered on its promises to clean up government. Around the world we’ve seen that when elected officials fail to deliver on their anti-corruption promises, it has a corrosive effect on public trust in government,” said Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s representative. “We are having a cultural moment in history in America that our elected officials really need to wake up to.”
Responding for the White House, Principal Deputy White House Spokesman Raj Shah said, “Actually, we’ve done quite a bit to end corruption and increase transparency in government. We’ve elevated the status of the ethics office, issued guidance to staff to be more cooperative with congressional resolutions, and we’ve said we want government agencies to be as transparent as possible. We have worked hard to work back the backlog of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to make information about the government more available. What people say they believe in this [TI] survey has more to do with the media barrage of negative coverage than with actual corruption.”
In the survey, Transparency International asked people how well their government is doing at fighting corruption.
In 2016, people in the United States had slightly more faith in their government’s efforts than the global average.
“In 2017, citizens’ responses to this question are now much worse and similar to what people in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda told us. In terms of perceptions of the level of corruption in the Office of the President, the global average is that less than a third of people say their executive is highly corrupt,” said Transparency International researcher Coralie Pring.
“In 2016, the U.S. was already over this mark [36 percent]. However, the figure is now even worse at 44 percent — comparable to what people in Pakistan, Armenia and El Salvador told us,” Pring told VOA.
The survey says 38 percent of Americans believe members of Congress are corrupt and 33 percent believe government officials are. Congress fared the worst in last year’s survey.
The poll says 32 percent think business executives are corrupt, 23 percent believe local government officials are corrupt and 22 percent believe religious leaders are corrupt. Judges and magistrates fare the best, with 16 percent of Americans believing they are corrupt.
The survey shows that close to a third of African-Americans believe police are corrupt, compared to a fifth of those polled overall. Slightly more than half say they feared retaliation for reporting what they believe to be wrongdoing, up from slightly less than a third in 2016.
Transparency International says its survey shows “people are now more critical of government efforts to fight corruption. From just over half in 2016, nearly seven in 10 people in the United States now say that the government is doing a bad job at combating corruption within its own institutions. This is despite widespread commitments to clean up government.”
Those surveyed said that while public protests and speaking out can be effective in fighting corruption, the best way is to vote out of office politicians they believe to be corrupt.
The anti-corruption group says that while Trump was elected on a vow to make government work better “for those who feel their interests have been neglected by political elites,” the opposite has happened.
“Rather than feeling better about progress in the fight against corruption over the past year,” the group said, “a clear majority of people in America now say that things have become worse.”
VOA’s Ken Bredemeier and Peter Heinlein contributed to this report.