Nearly half of Americans believe the nation’s moral values are in poor condition, and a significantly higher percentage predict those standards are only going to get worse, a newly released Gallup poll has found.
But the survey also found political realities in the U.S. have driven those attitudes to higher highs and lower lows in the past 12 months depending on respondents’ views on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“Partisan shifts suggest that the transfer of power in Washington has had a stronger than usual effect on how partisans perceive the country’s moral compass, with Democrats now the most optimistic they have been in two decades and Republicans the least,” Gallup researchers said.
“Partisan shifts suggest that the transfer of power in Washington has had a stronger than usual effect on how partisans perceive the country’s moral compass.”
Those differences are notable given past assessments of the nation’s moral condition, the pollsters added: “Americans have long been dismayed by the state of moral values in the country. Less than a third of Democrats and even fewer Republicans have considered U.S. moral values excellent or good since 2002, and pessimism about the direction of morals outpaces optimism among both groups.”
The May 3-18 survey also uncovered movement in population-wide attitudes about moral standards.
“After dipping to 40% in 2020, the percentage of Americans describing moral values in the U.S. as ‘poor’ has returned to 47%, matching the 2019 reading and similar to perceptions since 2017,” Gallup said in an online summary of the research published June 16. “Meanwhile, fewer have described morals as only fair, and the percentages rating them as excellent or good have remained consistently low.”
Those pessimistic about the future of America’s moral condition improved slightly from 68% this year to 67% in 2021, Gallup said. “However, Americans were significantly more likely to say values were getting worse in most years from 2004 to 2019, including a high of 82% in 2007.”
But in 2021 it is members of the Grand Old Party who are most likely to see American moral values in the dimmest light. According to Gallup, Republicans who harbor negative views of American moral standards have increased from 46% in 2020 to 66% this year.
That’s “easily the highest percentage of Republicans viewing values this negatively since the inception of the trend in 2002,” Gallup said. “Before now, Republicans’ ratings of moral values had been worsening slowly, with no comparable surge in concern following the transfer of presidential leadership from Republican to Democratic control in 2009, nor decrease when Trump replaced Barack Obama in 2017.”
Gallup added that only 27% of Republicans describe the nation’s moral state as “fair” and 7% see it as either “excellent” or “good.”
Members of the party reached another milestone, according to the survey: “92% of Republicans now saying moral values are getting worse is the highest Gallup has recorded, well above the average 81% since 2002 and edging out the 90% recorded in 2007.”
Democrats, on the other hand, represent nearly the mirror opposite of Republicans on the issues of American moral standing.
“Democrats’ views about the nation’s values remain more negative than positive, on balance, but their ratings have improved over the past year,” Gallup said. “The percentage of Democrats describing U.S. morals as poor fell to 30% in the latest poll, from 42% in 2020. The percentage rating them as only fair rose nine percentage points to 47%, while the percentage rating them as excellent or good is unchanged at 22%.”
Over the two decades Gallup has been collecting data on views of moral values, Democrats’ attitudes have experienced less fluctuation than those of Republicans. However, the percentage of Democrats rating morals as “excellent” or “good” dropped during Trump’s presidency from the higher marks of the Obama years.
“At the same time, Democrats are exhibiting record-high optimism about the direction of moral values, with 46% saying they are improving and just under half (49%) saying they are getting worse.”
By comparison, in 2020 two-thirds of Democrats believed the morality situation was worsening. “Until now, no more than 36% of Democrats had said moral values were getting better, with that previous high point recorded in 2009.”