His March 2016 study examined honesty in a dice game in 23 different countries (but not the United States) and then compared them to a corruption index for those countries. The more corrupt a society was, the more likely the people there were willing to deceive in the simple dice game.

Most people want to be honest, but if they live in a country where rule violations are rampant “people say, ‘Well everybody cheats. If I cheat here, then that’s OK,'” Gaechter said.

Add to that confirmation bias, Mercieca said. The public tends to believe things — even if they are false — “that confirm what we be already believe” and come from news sources and partisans that they already trust and agree with.

Political scientist and psychologist Renshon said politicians should be held up to a higher standard but over the decades, they and the government have been more deceitful and unwilling to tell the public something that could hurt them politically. When President Dwight Eisenhower misled the public about a spy plane captured by the Soviet Union, lying was the exception. By the time President Bill Clinton strained the meaning of the word “is” testifying before a grand jury, it was more common.