PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are three times more likely to describe the current state of moral values in the United States as "poor" than as "excellent" or "good." Americans' assessment of U.S. morality has never been positive, but the current ratings rank among the worst Gallup has measured over the past nine years.
Additionally, Gallup's annual poll on moral values, conducted May 3-6, finds 76% of Americans saying moral values in the United States are getting worse; while 14% say they are getting better. Last year saw a slight improvement in these attitudes -- with 21% saying values were getting better -- but opinion has since reverted to near 2006-2008 levels.
To better understand what Americans mean when they say "moral values in the country" are getting worse, Gallup asks respondents who hold this view to describe some of the ways in which they see values deteriorating.
Most commonly, respondents see a lack of respect for other people and a more general decline in moral values and standards. But the responses are quite varied. Specifically, some blame the perceived decline on poor parenting -- specifically, parents not instilling proper values in their children. Some cite the poor examples of U.S. leaders in government and business who find themselves embroiled in ethical or moral scandals. And some reference larger societal factors, such as rising crime and violence, Americans turning away from God, church and religion, and the breakdown of the typical two-parent family.
Another theme permeating through the responses is blaming individuals themselves for the moral decline, either by not taking responsibility for their own behaviors (7%), not caring (6%), being out for themselves (4%), and for their greed (3%).
As noted, a small minority of 14% of Americans believe moral values are getting better. The most common examples members of this group cite include a better understanding of people from different backgrounds and cultures -- including a decline in racism -- as well as Americans pulling together in tough times and helping those in need.
Neither Republicans, Democrats, nor independents give very positive ratings of to the current state of U.S. moral values. The major party differences come in Republicans' and independents' greater tendency to rate moral values as poor and Democrats' greater likelihood to describe them as "only fair." This has been the basic pattern over the last several years.
Democrats are somewhat less negative about the trajectory of moral values -- 22% say values are getting better compared with 12% of Republicans and 9% of independents. Democrats are less optimistic this year compared with 36% who said values were getting better last year. The greater Democratic optimism in 2009 was likely a response to the change in presidential administration from Republican to Democrat.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,029 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 3-6, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline 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.