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Americans Remain Pessimistic About State of Moral Values

Americans Remain Pessimistic About State of Moral Values
by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • Majority continues to say state of morals getting worse
  • Americans most likely to describe morals in U.S. as "poor"
  • Republicans, GOP leaners most negative on state of morals

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans remain far more likely to say the state of moral values in the U.S. is getting worse (73%) than to say it is getting better (20%). Over a 15-year trend, solid majorities have consistently viewed the direction of the country's values negatively, ranging from 67% in 2002 and 2003 to 82% in 2007.


As has been the case since 2007, Republicans and independents who lean Republican (84%) continue to be more likely than Democrats and independents who lean Democratic (61%) to say the state of moral values in the U.S. is getting worse. Prior to that, both groups were about equally likely to view the direction of the country's morals negatively.

From 2003 to 2007, Republicans became increasingly likely to say the state of morals in the U.S. was deteriorating; in 2007, that figure reached 88%. It has generally remained close to that level since, with most ratings in the mid-80s each year. Democrats, on the other hand, have become less likely to view the state of moral values as declining since the end of the George W. Bush administration. During Bush's two terms in office, between 69% and 79% of Democrats said moral values in the U.S. were getting worse, compared with 56% to 67% during Barack Obama's administration.

The latest figures were collected as part of Gallup's May 4-8 Values and Beliefs poll.


Americans Most Likely to Describe State of Moral Values as "Poor"

In line with their pessimism about the direction of moral values in the country, U.S. adults are much more likely to describe the current state of moral values as "poor" (43%) or "only fair" (36%) than to say it is "excellent" or "good" (18%).

This has been the case for most of Gallup's trend, though in some years the percentages saying moral values were poor or only fair have been about even. The highest percentage ever saying that the state of moral values was excellent/good was 23% in 2011. Among the positive responses, however, few Americans rate the state of moral values as excellent -- only between 1% and 3% have given this rating since 2002.


Republicans and Republican-leaning independents' assessments of the current state of moral values in the U.S. are more negative than those of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Republicans (56%) are nearly twice as likely as Democrats (31%) to describe the state of moral values as poor.

From 2002 to 2006, these groups were similarly likely to say the nation's moral fabric was poor, with differences between them not exceeding five percentage points. The disparities between the two have grown, however, with 25 points separating the groups in the latest poll.


Bottom Line

Negative views of the state of moral values in the U.S. are the norm for Americans -- they are most likely to describe it as poor, and a strong majority say it is only getting worse.

Platform issues on moral values are frequently espoused by Republican candidates for office at all levels of U.S. government, so it may come as little surprise that those who identify as or lean Republican have a heightened sensitivity to the state of the nation's moral fabric. But a majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, too, say the state of moral values is declining.

While Americans point to many ways in which they see the country's morals getting worse, they are most likely to say they see a decline in U.S. standards and a lack of respect for one another, as well as poor values instilled by parents and reflected among government officials. Given Gallup's long-standing trend, it is likely that a majority of Americans will continue to view the direction of the nation's morals negatively.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 4-8, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,025 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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