Survey: Americans hold military in highest esteeen, clergy in middle, lawyers at bottom

Published: Saturday, July 13 2013 10:35 a.m. MDT

In this Dec. 24, 2011 file photo, Sgt. Howard Acoff hugs his family as U.S. Army 1st Cavalry 3rd Brigade soldiers return home from deployment in Iraq at Fort Hood, Texas.

Erich Schlegel, AP

A new survey says the public holds the military and teachers in high esteem, while journalists, business executives and lawyers are at the bottom of the list.

The poll of about 4,000 adults by the Pew Research Center also found that just 37 percent of the general public said clergy contribute "a lot" to society's well-being.

Pew last asked the public to rate the same 10 occupations four years ago, and little changed except for journalists, who dropped 10 percentage points from 38 percent in 2009. "About as many U.S. adults now say journalists contribute 'not very much' or 'nothing at all' to society (27 percent) as say they contribute a lot (28 percent)," the survey stated.

The decline in public esteem for journalists was most pronounced among women. Pew found about three-in-10 women (29 percent) say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being, down 17 percentage points from 46 percent in 2009. Pew also found that the drop in the perceived contributions by journalists cut across all age groups, education levels and partisan politics.

"It could be a tricky business — that the stories that most move the ratings needle, like murder trials, are exactly the kinds of stories that could make the general public skeptical that the media have much to contribute to society," observed media critic Tim Graham.

Military ranked the highest with 78 percent perceiving those in the armed services contributed a lot to society. That was down from 84 percent in 2009. Teachers (72 percent), doctors (66 percent), scientists (65 percent) and engineers (63 percent) rounded out the top five.

Following journalists, business executives (24 percent) and lawyers (18 percent) completed the bottom three. Artists were just above journalists with 30 percent of those surveyed finding artists contributing a lot to society's well-being.

Clergy dropped three percentage points from 2009 in their perceived value to society. Not surprisingly, regular churchgoers were more positive about their ecclesiastical leaders than those who attend less than weekly. "But even among adults who say they attend religious services at least once a week, only about half (52 percent) rate clergy in general as contributing 'a lot' to society, while 29 percent say the clergy make 'some' contribution, and 11 percent say the clergy contribute 'not very much' or 'nothing at all.'"

Among regular churchgoers, white mainline Protestants (65 percent) were the most upbeat about clergy, while only 29 percent of Hispanic Catholics held their clergy in high esteem. Pew noted that its ratings align with other surveys rating public confidence in leading institutions.

In the 2012 General Social Survey more people expressed confidence in the military than in any other institution, followed by leaders of the scientific community and medicine. Pews said ratings of religious leaders were in the middle of institutions considered, with a fifth of adults saying they had a great deal of confidence in leaders of organized religion.

The exception was the news media, where few expressed confidence in leaders of "television" (10 percent) and "the press” (9 percent), compared with Pew's results.

email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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