PRINCETON, NJ -- For the first time, Gallup finds a majority of Americans, 52%, saying the government should not favor any set of values in society, while 44% believe it should promote traditional values. From 1993 through 2004, the majority of Americans consistently favored the government's promoting of traditional values, but views have since been more mixed.
The question is asked as part of Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 6-9 this year. That poll was conducted as the Democratic convention was coming to an end, which may have caused the public to tilt in a slightly more liberal direction.
Gallup has asked about the government's role in morality since 1993. The percentage favoring government promotion of traditional values has been as high as 59%, in early 1996 and in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Support for the traditional values position fell to 50% in 2005, and though it has exceeded 50% twice since then -- in 2009 and 2010 -- the 2005 poll seems to have signaled the beginning of a new era in Americans' views on the matter. The shift at that time may have been prompted in part by the unpopularity of the Bush administration and Republican Congress, but has continued as Americans have become more permissive in their attitudes on certain social issues such as gay rights and marijuana use.
Shift More Apparent Among Republicans
As would be expected, Republicans, who generally are more conservative on social issues, widely favor active promotion of traditional values by the government, 65% to 32%. Democrats, on the other hand, believe government should take a more neutral stance, by a slightly larger margin, 67% to 29%. Independents also tend to believe the government should not favor any set of values, 54% to 41%.
The shift away from a preference for government promotion of traditional values is most evident among Republicans, even though Republicans still as a whole favor that course of action. In 2004, 79% of Republicans held that view, compared with 65% today, a change of 14 percentage points.
Democrats have also moved more in the direction of the government's not favoring any set of values, from 58% in 2004 to 67%. Independents' views have changed the least since 2004.
Americans' opinions on the government's promoting traditional values have clearly softened in the last several years. This year marks the first time a majority says the government should not promote a particular value set.
That coincides with a clear preference of Americans for a reduced government role in "solving the nation's problems."
The two sets of beliefs suggest the United States could be heading toward a more libertarian era, favoring less of a government role, which is consistent with the public's more permissive views on gay rights, marijuana use, and gun ownership.
However, the arrival of a more libertarian era may not be certain until Americans more consistently support a reduced government role in matters of morality, and perhaps an even stronger majority than the 54% who currently say the government should let individuals and businesses try to solve the country's problems.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-9, 2012, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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.
are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey MONTH D-D, 2012, with a random sample of 1,XXX [adults/registered voters], aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of [national adults/registered voters], 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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
View methodology, full question results, and trend data.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.