No longer the 'skunks at the picnic:' Poll finds strong support for whistleblowers
© Greg Nash

Whistleblowers are often derided as “traitors,” “snitches,” or simply the “skunks at the picnic.” But no more. For the first time a highly rated public opinion pollster has surveyed “likely voters” to determine where the American people stand on whistleblowing. The results are in. Americans strongly believe (86 percent) that whistleblowers who report corporate or government fraud should be protected, and that Congress should enact stronger laws protecting those who report corporate fraud (82 percent).

The survey was conducted by the respected The Marist Poll, which has the highest quality rating (A+) issued by the national polling website FiveThirtyEight. The poll is the first of its kind. It was designed to capture the opinions of all Americans, including “likely voters,” Republicans, Democrats, young, old, rich and poor. The poll’s margin of error was between +/-3.5 percent (adults) to +/- 4.3 percent (likely voters). In other words, the poll presented a statistically accurate picture of all American adults, including “likely voters.”

Across all demographics, the American people strongly support whistleblowers. The poll, commissioned by the Whistleblower News Network (which the author is a contributing editor) tried to capture the true picture of public attitudes on this often highly controversial subject. Three questions were asked. The first was designed to capture overall feelings toward whistleblowers. It simply asked whether or not federal employee whistleblowers should have more protections. Support was universal. Among all “likely voters:” 86 percent; Democrats: 94 percent; Republicans: 78 percent; Independents: 88 percent; young (under 45): 91 percent; old (over 45) 83 percent; men: 87 percent; women: 86 percent; Black: 86 percent; White: 85 percent; college educated: 89 percent; non-college educated: 84 percent; big city: 86 percent; rural: 83 percent; income under $50,000: 84 percent; income over $50,000: 89 percent.

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The second question when further, inquiring into the respondents’ intensity of support. It asked whether or not Congress should prioritize enacting stronger laws to protect corporate employees who report fraud. The question moved from a simple opinion about increasing whistleblower protections to what “likely voters” want their elected officials to do. The results were stunning. Eighty-one percent of likely voters wanted their elected leaders to prioritize passing stronger whistleblower laws, and an amazing 27 percent wanted “immediate” action on this issue. With all of the problems facing America, over 1 in 4 likely voters wanted their members of Congress to increase whistleblower protections now.

As in all of the survey questions, support for whistleblowers was across party lines and all demographics: Democrats: 88 percent; Republicans: 74 percent; Independents: 82 percent.

The third question was the most challenging. It is one thing to generally support whistleblowers. It is another thing to want politicians to act on their behalf. But will you, a voter, take personal action on behalf of whistleblowers? Will you hold your leaders accountable in the voting booth? Almost half of all American voters (44 percent) explained that they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported whistleblowers. Given the competition among issues, such as the environment, gun control, or abortion, the fact that 44 percent of likely voters also would take a candidate’s position on whistleblowing into consideration when they cast their ballot is a game changer.

In the past, whistleblowers often begged their representatives for modest protections against retaliation. Many of these laws never worked in practice, other were never passed. The Marist poll paints a very different picture. Despite all of the sharp politically partisan disputes that have surrounded whistleblowers over the past few years (such as the controversy surrounding the “Ukraine whistleblower”) the American people remain firm: Whistleblowers must be supported. Congress must pass better laws. Politicians who attack whistleblowers will face backlash from millions of voters. Whistleblowers are no longer the skunks at the picnic.

Stephen M. Kohn, is a partner at the whistleblower law firm of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, a contributing editor of Whistleblower News Network, and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Whistleblower Center. For complete poll results, please visit: https://whistleblowersblog.org/whistleblower-news-network-survey/