New high: 81 percent say nation's moral values getting worse

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than eight in 10 Americans say the country's moral values are getting worse, although Democrats and Republicans differ greatly on what specifically is morally acceptable and what is morally wrong, a new Gallup poll shows.

The 81 percent of adults who say the nation's "state of moral values" is getting worse is a record high for the question, which was first asked in 2002. It registered at 67 percent in each of the first two years and 77 percent in 2004 and 2005 before inching even higher this year.

Only 11 percent of Americans say the nation's moral values are getting better.

The 10-point spike between May 2003 and May 2004—when the polls were conducted—came during a time in which "gay marriage" was legalized in Massachusetts and several Canadian provinces, Janet Jackson was exposed on nationwide television during the Super Bowl and the story broke about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The increase in pessimism about morality since 2002-03 is seen most among Republicans (a 16-point increase) and independents (an 18-point jump) and less among Democrats (a 6-point jump).

On another question, in describing the situation "right now" in America, 85 percent of Americans rate the "state of moral values" as fair or poor. Forty-two percent say they are poor, 43 percent fair. All of those stats are new highs. Only 14 percent of Americans—a new low—say the state of morality is excellent or good.

But Republicans and Democrats differ widely on what is and is not morally permissible:

• 51 percent of all Americans say homosexual relations are "morally wrong" and 44 percent say they're "morally acceptable." But Democrats are much more likely to say homosexual relations are OK—53 percent say they're morally permissible, while only 36 percent of Republicans say the same.

• 43 percent of Americans say abortion is acceptable, 44 percent say it's wrong. The finding is significant since it's the first time since 2001 that the percentage of "morally wrong" answers fell below 50 percent. Fifty-three percent of Democrats say abortion is OK, although only 30 percent of Republicans say so.

• 71 percent of adults say the death penalty is morally acceptable, although Democrats (63 percent) and Republicans (82 percent) disagree somewhat on its permissibility.

• 61 percent of Americans say embryonic stem cell research is OK. (The question did not note that the embryos are destroyed, a fact that pro-lifers say can change a poll's outcome.) Sixty-nine percent of Democrats say it's morally acceptable, while 53 percent of Republicans say the same.


Other findings
Following is the complete list of issues included in the poll, the percentage of people who say something is morally permissible and the numbers for both Democrats and Republicans:

• Divorce (67 percent; Democrats, 71 percent; Republicans, 59 percent).

• Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur (62 percent; Democrats, 55 percent; Republicans, 75 percent).

• Medical testing on animals (61 percent; Democrats, 56 percent; Republicans, 69 percent).

• Gambling (60 percent; Democrats, 65 percent; Republicans, 54 percent).

• Sex between an unmarried man and woman (59 percent; Democrats, 65 percent; Republicans, 50 percent).

• Having a baby outside of marriage (51 percent; Democrats, 57 percent; Republicans, 43 percent).

• Doctor-assisted suicide (50 percent; Democrats, 53 percent; Republicans, 45 percent).

• Cloning animals (29 percent; Democrats, 28 percent; Republicans, 31 percent).

• Suicide (15 percent; Democrats, 18 percent; Republicans, 12 percent).

• Cloning humans (8 percent; Democrats, 8 percent; Republicans, 8 percent).

• Polygamy, when one husband has more than one wife at the same time (5 percent; Democrats, 4 percent; Republicans, 5 percent).

• Married men and women having an affair (4 percent; Democrats, 5 percent; Republicans, 3 percent).

The poll of 1,002 adults was conducted May 8 to 11 and is part of Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey.