Druggists top ethics poll, car salesman at bottom

December 28, 1997

Druggists top ethics poll, car salesman at bottom


Staff Writer

Every time Jay Lawyer spots a potential customer, he knows the negative stereotypes of car salesmen that many people have.

Car salesmen were rated lowest in a poll that asked Americans to judge the standards of honesty and ethics of 26 professions. It was the only group that a majority of respondents - 59 percent - rated unfavorably.

But Lawyer, who owns Lawyer Motor Co. in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said he has built a successful business by replacing those general impressions with positive experiences.


"There probably are, unfortunately in any business, people who deal in poor practice," he said. "When I tell someone I'm going to fix something or stand behind something, that's exactly what I do The used car business is a tough business to gain that reputation."

But Lawyer, who has sold cars for 18 years, and owned his current business for 11, said he thinks there are more honest car salesmen than dishonest ones.

The key to maintaining a good reputation, Lawyer said, is simple: Deal with customers honestly.

"We stand behind what we sell," he said. "Our best advertising is word-of-mouth."

The survey, conducted in November by Gallup and released earlier this month, asked 1,003 adults to rate the honesty and ethics of 26 occupations. It had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

On the other end of the spectrum, pharmacists attained the highest rating of any occupation since Gallup began asking the question in 1976. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said pharmacists had very high or high standards.

The rating put pharmacists above even the clergy.

To Chris L. Brown, a pharmacist at Schindel's Pharmacy in Hagerstown, the reason is no mystery.

"It's been that way for several years. I think one of the reasons is we're accessible," he said. "You don't need an appointment to hurry up and wait."

Brown said he thinks managed care as hurt doctors' standing with the public, although medical doctors still ranked third in the poll. He said doctors have less time to spend with their patients now.

Pharmacists, on the other hand, become friends and confidants to their customers, Brown said.

"I guess in a way, it's unfair. Some of my patients will confide in us more than doctors," he said. "I think pharmacists have to be good listeners. Also, they have to be able to interact with customers."

The Gallup poll revealed few changes from last year's survey, although pharmacists and bankers moved up several notches.

The poll also continued to show a disparity among blacks and whites. For several years, more whites than blacks have rated police officers and clergy positively.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., is a member of one the lowest-rated occupations - congressmen. He said it is a problem he noted when he first ran for Congress.

Pointing to other surveys that show voters giving high marks to Congress for job performance, Bartlett said there is a contradiction between Americans' views of the personal and professional conduct of their elected officials.

"The average American now sees an unethical Congress doing good things," he said.

Bartlett said increasingly intense scrutiny of elected officials has made it difficult for the institution to maintain a high public standing. He also said negative campaigns and well-publicized scandals have hurt.

But Bartlett also said he thinks the vast majority of representatives have high standards of honesty and ethics.

Pointing to the bottom occupations on the lists - senators, advertising practitioners, congressmen, insurance salesmen and car salesmen - Bartlett also speculated the nature of their work might have something to do with their low rankings.

"All of the people who rate low are selling something. Americans don't like to be sold," he said.

Robert Carson, a math professor at Hagerstown Junior College, concurred with that assessment.

"The top group are the people who are sought out by their clients," he said. "It sounds like they're individuals who work with people and people who make differences in people's lives."

Carson, whose profession ranked fourth in the survey, said services like education make a more indelible impact than other products.

"These are more lasting things. You buy a car and it's over in three years," he said.

And what about public opinion pollsters and newspaper reporters? They rank 10th and 16th respectively.

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