60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Corruption

Americans weigh in on the topic of corruption in the June edition of the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for June 2015. This month's poll focuses on corruption, the abuse of power by someone in a position of trust. Whether it is an elected politician, government official or law enforcement officer acting in their official capacity for personal gain, corrupt behavior has seemingly existed in human nature since our very beginning.

Today, it can be found in cultures, societies and organizations around the world as evidenced by the numerous 60 Minutes stories that have exposed it. Most recently it was FIFA's corruption scandal that was in the news. International Football's (soccer) governing body was rocked by allegations of systemic bribery and corruption totaling tens of millions of dollars and resulting in numerous arrests. Before that many of the most trusted names in the world of finance were hit with similar arrests and huge fines for a multitude of corrupt practices. Maybe it's been going on forever, but many people are tiring of paying the moral and financial costs that result. Do you think the amount of corrupt behavior in the world today is increasing, decreasing, or is it staying about the same? We look forward to your answer to this question and many others. Now the results...

Systemic Corruption


Thirty-eight percent of Americans chose the federal government as the most corrupt institution in American society followed by the news media 17 percent, banks and financial institutions 16 percent, the police 11 percent and organized religions 7 percent. The size and sway of the government would lead many people to think it is ripe for corrupt behavior. Forty-four percent of Republicans think so whereas only 26 percent of Democrats do. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans chose the news media while 25 percent of Democrats picked banks and financial institutions. Surprisingly, the police who have been in the news so much lately got only 11 percent (4 percent Republicans vs. 17 percent Democrats) it appears that Americans still support their local sheriff.

For better or worse


More than two out of three Americans (68 percent) think the amount of corrupt behavior in the world is on the rise. Twenty-seven percent think it is staying the same and only 4 percent think that it is decreasing. Whether it is because there are simply more people in the world, more opportunities for temptation or more corrupt behavior being exposed by the media and law enforcement, Americans almost all agree that corruption is on the rise or holding its own.



Just under half of Americans (46 percent) think that people who are not corruptible and squeaky clean are just the kind of people they want to know. Thirty-seven percent say they can't find them because they are too few to be noticed and 8 percent think they are insufferable and humorless. Honest people have long been admired and although some Americans think they can be hard to find, most of the rest of us like our friends squeaky clean.

Personal preference


Another vote in favor of incorruptible people, with a whopping 87 percent of Americans saying they would prefer to deal with someone who is not corruptible even if they might not get their way. Only 9 percent said they would prefer someone who is corruptible even if they might not be able to trust them in the future. File under "it is better to deal with the devil you know than the devil you don't."

What do you think?


Now here is a fun way to gauge how far Americans will go in finding what is acceptable versus unacceptable. Americans think it is more acceptable to pay someone for a better table (47 percent) than it is to pay them to stand in line for them (39 percent). They think it is more unacceptable to use a paid sick day for recreational use (67 percent) than to pay off a kid with candy to shut them up (64 percent). And Americans do not take kindly to people who forge their spouse's signature (82 percent) or to those who write letters of recommendation for people they don't know very well (83 percent).

Means to an end


A third of all Americans think that bribery is the most effective method of corruption followed by lying 29 percent, cheating 13 percent, friendship 7 percent, seduction 6 percent and flattery 5 percent. Whether it is a payoff or payola, a sweetener or a split, a gift or graft, grease or gravy, a perk or a present there is nothing better than cold hard cash to get someone's attention.

All in the family


Two out of three Americans do not think nepotism is acceptable, but three out of 10 think that it is. It is somewhat surprising that young adults under the age of 30 are evenly divided on the question while people over 30 are much more opposed to the practice (70 percent vs 25 percent). It probably means the younger folks are still hoping Uncle Bob will help them get that job, while for those over 30 that ship might have already sailed.

Pulling strings


Nearly three out of four Americans (73 percent) think that it is corrupt and unfair for someone to pull strings to help their underachieving child get in to a prestigious college. Seventeen percent said it's corrupt but I'd do it too if I could and 7 percent think that all is fair in love, war and college admissions. It appears most people still believe that America should be a meritocracy.

Historical figure


More than a third of Americans did not know who Spiro Agnew was. Eight percent said he was a disgraced NY police commissioner followed by a convicted Boston mob boss 6 percent, a figure from the 1919 Black Sox Scandal 4 percent, and a shady restauranteur 2 percent. Forty-five percent correctly identified Spiro T. Agnew as the 39th Vice President of the United States who was elected twice with Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972. He was forced to resign in October of 1973 after being charged with accepting bribes totaling more than $100,000. Less than a year later, President Nixon resigned in disgrace and Agnew's successor Gerald Ford was sworn in as America's first and only unelected president.

Uneven playing field


So which sport is more corrupt? Boxing (44 percent) knocked out Horse racing (31 percent) which placed second out of the winner's circle. Cycling (7 percent) rolled past Soccer (5 percent) which kicked figure skating into last place (2 percent) despite the protests of the Russian judge. NB: The poll was taken before the FIFA scandal broke...wonder what the numbers would be now?

Breaking bread


In the rogue's gallery of colorful corrupt fictional characters, 21 percent of Americans think that The Godfather, Vito Corleone would make the most entertaining dinner guest. Next up were, Tony Soprano 19 percent, Professor Moriarty 17 percent, Catwoman 12 percent, Voldemort 10 percent and Frank Underwood 7 percent. It appears that Americans would prefer to dine with mobsters more than arch villains and as has been the case lately, they like politicians (even colorful ones) even less.

This poll was conducted by telephone from April 10-14, 2015 among a random sample of 1,005 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard landline and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for other subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Poll. Read more about this poll