International Polls Find No Shortage of Moral Discontent

by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min.
Religion and Social Trends Editor

Britons most cynical about moral values

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter documents his growing unease with the country's moral climate in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. Recent multinational Gallup Polls* show Carter is not alone -- nor are Americans themselves alone -- in that concern. Most Americans, Britons, and Canadians are not feeling too cheery about the state of moral values in their respective countries, but Britons are the dourest. Eighty-six percent of Britons rate the state of moral values in their country as only "fair" or "poor," In addition, 83% of Britons think the state of moral values is getting worse.

Americans are less downcast than Britons, but more cynical than Canadians: 79% of Americans rate the overall state of moral values in the United States as only fair or poor, and 77% say the state of moral values is getting worse. Canadians are the most positive of the lot, 61% rate the condition of moral values as only fair or poor, and 68% say moral conditions are getting worse.

Why the differences? The poor ratings among Britons probably reflect their broader tendency to be more pessimistic than Americans or Canadians about issues related to social values or their own wellbeing. In this same survey, for example, British respondents were less likely than Americans or Canadians to say they are very satisfied with their communities, their personal safety, their jobs, or their opportunities to succeed in life.

The level of religiosity in each country might also be a factor. By all measures, the United States is the most religious of the three, Great Britain the least, and Canada somewhere between the two extremes. The dismal outlook on values in the United States could suggest that the general moral tenor of society has trouble measuring up to the expectations of devout Americans. Ironically, the low level of religiosity in Great Britain may be producing a similar outcome: Britons may not be pleased with the moral relativism that accompanies a largely secular culture. Canadians, who are neither as religious as Americans nor secular as Britons, find it easiest to be upbeat about the current state of moral values and what lies ahead.

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-5, 2005. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 22-31, 2005. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 26-Sept. 8, 2005. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

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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