By Mike Lillis - 06/13/11 10:00 AM EDT
More than two-thirds of voters think the ethical standards of politicians have declined over the past generation, and almost as many say Capitol Hill lawmakers are downright unscrupulous, according to the results of a new poll commissioned by The Hill.
A striking 68 percent of likely voters polled said the ethical standards of politicians have deteriorated in recent decades, while just 7 percent said they have improved during that time, the survey said.
The findings arrive amid a blush-inducing flap involving Rep. Anthony Weiner, a married New York Democrat who last week acknowledged sending sexually suggestive pictures of himself to “about six” women over social media websites in recent years.
The Hill’s survey was conducted on June 9 — three days after Weiner made an emotional public confession that he sent a photo of himself in his underwear to a 21-year-old Seattle college student on Twitter.
Weiner initially claimed he’d been hacked, but ultimately came clean — both to the taking and sending of the photo and to a series of online trysts with other women around the country.
The episode has generated countless headlines and forced furious Democratic leaders into crisis-management mode as they try to extinguish the flames of the scandal and shift the national debate back to issues like the GOP’s unpopular plan to privatize Medicare.
After party power brokers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), called for Weiner to step down Saturday, he announced he would take a leave of absence. But he has not yet given any indication he will resign.
Still, The Hill poll found that the recent headlines haven’t caused the public to trust any one party over the other when it comes to issues of morality. Instead, voters distrust both parties just about equally.
When asked which party is more trust- worthy, more likely voters chose “neither” — 36 percent — than the 31 percent who picked the Democrats and the 29 percent who chose the Republicans.
Fifty-four percent of independent voters said neither party was more ethical than the other, with 20 percent favoring Republicans and 19 percent favoring Democrats.
Overall, 69 percent of likely voters said they somewhat or strongly disapproved of the job Congress is doing, while 25 percent said they somewhat approved and just 3 percent said they strongly approved.
The figures are based on a national survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted by Pulse Opinion Research.
The gender of the lawmaker does seem to play some role in the public’s eyes when it comes to questions of ethics, the survey found. Although a significant majority of voters (60 percent) said male and female politicians are equally trustworthy, 33 percent said men in office are less ethical than women. Only 5 percent said they view men to be more honest.
Recent history might help to explain why neither party has the upper hand when it comes to ethics on Capitol Hill — and also why male politicians are often trusted less.
Pelosi famously vowed to “drain the swamp” during the 2006 campaign after a series of GOP scandals rocked the political establishment, including Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) conviction for bribery and Rep. Mark’s Foley’s (R-Fla.) resignation for sending sexually explicit computer messages to teenage male pages.
Yet Pelosi has also found plenty of trouble on her side of the aisle, including the 2010 censure of Rep. Charles Rangel(D-N.Y.) — the first such punishment in 27 years — and the bribery conviction of Rep. William Jefferson (D -La.), which resulted in the longest prison sentence (13 years) ever handed down to a congressman.
There is no evidence that Weiner broke any laws or congressional rules, but Democratic leaders — including Pelosi — quickly distanced themselves from him. Several days before they called on him to go, they asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate his behavior.