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Gosh, we're honest. And getting more so.
Some 95% of people spread across 60 locations in 50 states, faced with a choice to be honest or not, paid their dollar at an honor-system street rack for Honest Tea this year.
That's up from 92% last year in the same Honest Tea experiment in the U.S., dubbed the National Honesty Index.
Honest Tea will release the survey Tuesday, but gave USA TODAY a first look. The results come at a time when honesty, particularly in accusations aimed at public officials, has been taking a beating.
"Considering how divisive the national dialogue is, you'd think we were all a bunch of crooks," says Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman. "But Americans are a lot more honest than we give ourselves credit for."
At the top, participants in Honolulu were 100% honest for the second year in a row.
Washington was the most-improved city, with its honesty quotient up to 96% vs. last year's bottom rating of 80%.
Taking D.C.'s place at the bottom of the 2014 National Honesty Index: Providence, R.I, with one in five residents dishonoring the honor system to go for a free drink.
For the first time, the experiment also had an online component, which boosted the total of participants to 28,000. Through a Facebook app, people were given a free coupon for a bottle of Honest Tea — but asked, in return, to post one of three non-commercial, inspirational quotations on their Facebook walls. The "honesty" rate for that was 95%.
Even in a still-challenged economy, consumer honesty appears to be on the rise — or, at the very least, holding firm. For Honest Tea, which prides itself on the transparency of the organic ingredients of its beverages, the survey results give the Coca Cola-owned beverage company a chance to bask in the glow of results that link it with every brand's image dream: honesty.
But not everyone buys the results. There's a "leap" in saying a person's willingness to pay for a particular drink at a particular time makes them honest — or not, says Robert Epstein, professor of psychology at The University of the South Pacific. "They might be dishonest in other situations, and honest in this one."
Once again, women proved to be slightly more honest than men — 95% vs. 93%. And, for the second consecutive year, blondes emerged as the most honest hair color: 95% honest vs. 91% for redheads.
How does Honest Tea know this? It places monitors within eyeshot of every stand that track the actions of everyone who takes a bottle. Each stand has a Lucite box where consumers are directed to place the requested $1 for each bottle of tea.
For the first time, one consumer this year attempted to rob the money box in the San Diego area. A monitor stopped them, Goldman says.
There were some creative dishonesty this year, too, including folks who put used subway cards — and even an Advil wrapper — in the cash box, in exchange for a bottle of tea.
But, overall, the honesty was astounding, Goldman says. In Minneapolis, he says, a homeless man studied the rack, then started to walk away because he had no money. A woman then approached him and paid for his bottle of tea.
Both walked off happy.
—By Bruce Horovitz, USA Today