Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

Americans Say U.S. Moral Values at a Seven-Year Low

Trump’s election elicits dark views from moderates and liberals about tolerance.

Americans may be split between warring political and cultural camps, but there is something most of them can agree on: They share a dim view of their country’s moral values.

More than 80 percent of people polled rate moral values in the U.S. as fair or poor—a seven-year low, and 77 percent of respondents to a new Gallup poll say the state of moral values will continue to get worse. 

In the 16 years Gallup has asked Americans whether their country’s moral values were getting better or worse, social conservatives have consistently been the most pessimistic—more likely than moderates or social liberals to say the situation was getting worse. Now moderates have that distinction. Eighty-six percent of moderates say moral values in the U.S. are worsening. That compares with 77 percent of social conservatives (an 11-percentage-point drop from last year) and 71 percent for social liberals.

Source: Gallup

In the survey’s history, there’s never been a majority of Americans with a rosy view of the state of the nation’s moral values. The question in the current survey has been asked since 2002. In 1991, when Gallup framed it differently, 63 percent of U.S. adults said they were “dissatisfied with the ethics and moral standards of the American people.”  

The change to a Republican administration definitely shifted some views, raising the percentage of pessimistic social liberals above the 60 percent mark that held for most of the Obama administration. But these ratings aren’t solely about who occupies the White House. In Gallup polls done in 2010 and 2012, respondents were asked about the most important problems with U.S. moral values, and among the oft-cited responses were lack of respect or tolerance for others.

Source: Gallup

When were Americans upbeat about moral values in recent history? The percentage of them giving U.S. moral values a rating of excellent or good peaked at 26 percent in November 2004. That coincides with the election of Republican President George W. Bush for a second term. Back then, a high of 27 percent thought the state of moral values in the U.S. was improving.

Gallup’s annual poll on U.S. moral values, which took place from May 3 to May 7, is based on telephone interviews with a random national sample of 1,011 adults above the age of 18.

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