The 100 Most Trusted People in America…Sort Of

Top 100In June of this year Reader’s Digest published a list of the 100 most trusted people in America today…sort of. They compiled a list of over 200 opinion shapers and headline makers from 15 highly influential professions and polled a nationally representative sample of 1,009 American adults, asking them to rank each person on a scale of 1 (not at all trustworthy) to 5 (extremely trustworthy) based on how highly they rated each person’s…

  • Integrity and character
  • Exceptional talent and drive for personal excellence
  • Internal moral compass
  • Message
  • Honesty
  • Leadership

I say “sort of” because Reader’s Digest started with a defined list of 200 people, so I’m sure that you, I, and about 313 million other Americans were excluded. Also, I’m not quite sure what “message” stands for as one of the variables being rated, and “leadership” can mean different things to different people, so without a definition of what those categories mean, it’s hard to put much stock in them. Regardless, the survey presented some fun and interesting perceptions about trust. Highlights of the survey included…

  • Actor Tom Hanks (65%) was the most trusted individual, followed by Sandra Bullock (63%), Denzel Washington (62%), Meryl Streep 61%), and Maya Angelou rounding out the top five. See the complete list here.
  • Americans trust people they know more than anyone famous. The three highest scores on the list were “your own doctor” (77%), “your own spiritual advisor” (71%), and “your child’s current teacher” (66%).
  • “Doctor” topped the list as the most trusted profession, and doctors who appear on TV were rated more trustworthy than doctors who are best-selling authors.
  • Judge Judy (51%) had the highest score of all the judges on the list, including all nine Supreme Court Justices. Boy, doesn’t that say a lot!?
  • Movie stars were rated as one of the most trusted professions, although being the highest-paid doesn’t necessarily equate to being trusted. Kristen Stewart, star of the Twilight movies and the highest paid actress in 2012, received the lowest score (24%) among female movie stars.
  • Americans trust altruistic people and professions, as shown by doctors, educators, and philanthropists scoring among the top five professions, and Maya Angelou, best-selling author, poet, and American Studies professor at Wake Forest, coming in at number 5 on the list.
  • Michelle Obama (53%), rated more trustworthy than her husband, President Obama (45%), Hillary Clinton (47%), and Colin Powell (50%).

I don’t put a tremendous amount of faith in surveys like this because I think our society tends to engage in too much hero-worship of the rich and famous, but it’s interesting to see how perceptions shape our views of other people’s trustworthiness.

What’s your perception of this survey? Do you think the six categories used by Reader’s Digest are the best indicators of a person’s trustworthiness? Feel free to leave a comment.

9 Comments on “The 100 Most Trusted People in America…Sort Of

  1. Randy,

    Interesting. But not much more than that. In fact, the more I look at this, the less I like it. It commits the classic Reader’s Digest risk of over-simplifying to the point of invalidity.

    On the one hand, anything that makes people more aware about the importance of trust deserves a good hearing. But “most trusted people?” Those of who follow trust as a significant part of our vocation know that there’ve been failed attempts at doing online ratings of “trust” across all kinds of celebrities. The results are ridiculous: Justin Bieber ranks are more trustworthy than the New York Times.

    It’s a classic case of apples and oranges. The implicit meanings of ‘trust’ are so varied that it’s trul meaningless to say that Tom Hanks is “more” trusted than a minister, or a fireman, or a governor. Any survey that doesn’t answer “trusted to DO WHAT?” as part of the question is, literally, non-sensical.

    But the one that does it for me is ‘most trusted profession.’ I was surprised to see doctors as number one, as these kinds of surveys are routinely done by professional polling organizations like Gallup or Yankelovich, and doctors never get number one. They’re in the broad upper third or so, but have been declining. The number one professions, most of the time, are nursing and fireman – mainly nursing. So I was curious to read more why doctors had suddenly made a resurgence.

    Well, duh. The survey results are based on, as the study says, “averaging the rankings of the individuals tested in each category of our trust poll.” In other words, let’s take a totally unscientific and meaningless poll, then cut the data another way and suggest we’ve now learned something about another topic.

    Please. Enough.The Readers’ Digest is doing its reputation no good at all but putting out such half thought-out “analyses” as this. Worse, it’s confusing and deluding those who don’t have the time or energy to give the matter some thoughtful reflection.

    Not good.

    Read more:

    • Charlie – Well said! I agree that anything that brings attention to the value of trust has a measure of merit, but this is grossly simplified and in the end is nothing more than another cheesy list of the topic du jour. After reading your feedback I wish I had taken a little harder stand about this silliness.

      Take care,


  2. Randy – thanks for posting.. I do think it is interesting.. but I always wonder who “they are”… Trust is critical into today’s world.. and harder than ever to come by. I have to say I was surprised that the politicians ranked that high. This would be an even more interesting article if it were done in our local papers with our local bankers, doctors, CPAs and insurance professionals. Interesting to see who made the list and who did not! However, thank you for putting it out there and getting the discussion and the debate going – think trust is an important “skill/emotion” to be discussing.

    • Hi Meridith. Publishing a local list of trusted people would be interesting, wouldn’t it?! Our trustworthiness is something we carry with us every day and it’s on display for the world to see (whether we appear on a “list” or not!).


  3. Fascinating. Trusting someone you only know through movie characters. No Way!
    I met Bill Cosby once and told him I got most of my parenting skills from watching the “Cosby Show”. He smiled and reminded me that it was television and not real life. I have never forgotten his words. None of them would make my top 100. You can not trust someone you do not know.

    • Interesting points Tim! (and how cool is it that you met Bill Cosby?!)

      I understand your point, but I would beg to differ about not being able to trust someone you don’t know. One element of trust is “competence.” We trust people who are skilled, knowledgeable, and demonstrate expertise. Take a surgeon, for example. Most people don’t personally know their surgeon or have any sort of personal track record with him/her, but you have a base level of trust because of the surgeon’s competence.

      I understand your point about deep levels of trust. You certainly need a more intimate relationship to achieve that standard.

      Take care,


  4. Silly nonsense! I can just imagine getting that polling call during dinner (isn’t that when the call always comes??) and being asked who I thought should be trusted the most? And who came up with the original list of 200?

    This poll does a disservice to the word “trust.” Sorry Reader’s Digest.

  5. Trust is valuable. It affects everything. Being trusted by others is one of the things you must have to go far in life and to achieve your greatest success. I think the categories taken into consideration by RD are fair enough, they should also have included such indicator also like: being authentic, having compassion, being kind, being resourceful, they should be connectors, humble, available, consistent, respectful, show gratitude and a couple of more.

    That is my piece of mind Randy

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