Republicans Sour on Nation’s Moral Climate

by Lydia Saad

In contrast to Democrats, majority now say moral values are “poor"

PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans have grown more critical of the state of moral values in the United States, with the percentage rating present moral conditions "poor" rising from 36% in 2006 to 51% in 2007, and remaining at that level today. No comparable change is seen among independents or Democrats.

As a result, Republicans are now significantly more negative about moral values than independents or Democrats, marking a change from the recent past.

These findings come from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, updated May 8-11, 2008.

The overall results to the question about the state of moral values show that, as has been the case consistently throughout the decade, few Americans give the country's moral climate high marks. Only 15% consider moral values to be "excellent" or "good" while 41% call them "only fair" and 44% consider them to be "poor."

A follow-up question asks Americans whether moral values are getting better or getting worse, and yields an equally negative answer. Only 11% of Americans perceive that values are improving, while 81% say things are getting worse.

It is unclear why Republicans' views about the state of the nation's current moral values would have soured sometime between the May 2006 and May 2007 Gallup surveys while those of Democrats and independents did not. However, since 2002, in response to the second question about moral values, all three partisan groups have grown increasingly pessimistic about the direction in which moral values are headed.

For example, in May 2003, Gallup found 29% of Republicans saying moral values were getting better and 64% saying they were getting worse. In 2004, the "getting worse" number jumped to 77%, and by 2005 it reached 82%. For the past two years, about 9 in 10 Republicans have said the state of moral values is getting worse. The pattern is similar for independents and Democrats, although their pessimism in 2007 and 2008 has been a bit lower than that of Republicans.

Gallup finds only minimal differences among men and women and adults of different age categories, regarding trends in their perceptions about the current state of moral conditions. These ratings have been fairly negative, but flat, while their outlook on the direction of moral values has been growing worse.

There does seem to be a widening income divide in perceptions of moral values, just not in the direction one might expect given Republicans' increased discontent with values. Since 2002, low- and middle-income Americans (both groups with disproportionately lower average incomes than Republicans) have become more likely to think moral conditions are poor, while there has been no change among upper-income Americans.

Bottom Line

Americans are reliably negative when it comes to rating moral values in the country. Since 2002, a majority of Americans have consistently said the state of moral values is less than good and getting worse.

Apart from this general pattern, Republicans' disaffection with the nation's moral climate (but not Democrats' or independents') has been elevated over the past two years, A number of "values" issues have been in the news in recent years, including gay marriage, pop-star misbehavior, and reports of high-profile elected officials involved in sex-related scandals, but it is unclear that any of these are responsible for the pattern in the data.

Whatever the cause, this may signal that Republicans will be particularly anxious to elect a new president this November who will help to uphold or restore the values they now find lacking in the country.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 8-11, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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