Gallup Inc.

06/16/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/16/2021 02:12

Stable U.S. Moral Ratings Obscure Big Partisan Shifts

Story Highlights

  • Americans overall see U.S. moral values in mostly negative terms
  • Record-high 66% of Republicans now rate moral values as 'poor'
  • Record-high 46% of Democrats say moral values are improving

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Continuing a long-term trend, Americans are discouraged about the state of moral values in the U.S., with 84% calling them 'only fair' or 'poor' and two-thirds believing they are getting worse rather than better. These negative evaluations differ little from what Gallup has found each year since it began measuring perceptions of the nation's values in 2002 as part of its Values and Beliefs survey, conducted annually.

Americans' rating of current moral values worsened slightly this year, according to the May 3-18 survey, at the same time their outlook for those values improved slightly. As a result, there is no change in Gallup's overall moral values index, which is a composite of the two measures.

This stability, however, masks significant changes in Democrats' and Republicans' perceptions of U.S. values between 2020 and 2021. Democrats are much less negative about moral values today than they were a year ago. Conversely, Republicans' views of U.S. moral values have sunk to record lows.

Close to Half in U.S. Rate Current Moral Values 'Poor'

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.

Longer-term, belief that the nation's moral values are poor has increased from a low of 35% in 2003. Meanwhile, fewer have described morals as only fair, and the percentages rating them as excellent or good have remained consistently low.

Line graph. Annual trend from 2002 to 2021 in Americans' rating of the state of moral values in the country. The percentage calling values poor has been trending upwards, rising from a low of 35% in 2003 to 47% in 2021. Nearly four in 10 have consistently rated them only fair while smaller percentages call them good and only 1% to 2% call them excellent.

Outlook for Morals Is Negative, but Not the Worst It Has Been

Over the past two decades, a large majority of Americans have repeatedly said that the state of the nation's moral values is getting worse rather than better. Today, 67% are pessimistic about how values are changing, similar to the 68% found in 2020. 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.

Line graph. Annual trend from 2002 to 2021 in whether Americans think the state of moral values in the country is getting better or worse. The large majority has consistently said it is getting worse, ranging from a high of 82% in 2007 to 67% in 2002 and today.

A Record-High 66% of Republicans Label Moral Values 'Poor'

Republicans' views of the state of moral values in the country have grown sharply worse over the past year, spanning the 2020 election and shift from Republican President Donald Trump to Democratic President Joe Biden. The percentage of Republicans calling values 'poor' rose from 40% in 2020 to 66% today -- easily the highest percentage of Republicans viewing values this negatively since the inception of the trend in 2002.

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.

The 27% of Republicans now calling U.S. moral values 'only fair,' and the 7% regarding them as 'excellent' or 'good,' are at record lows.

Line graph. Annual trend from 2002 to 2021 in Republicans view of current moral values in the country. Percentage rating moral values poor rose sharply in the past year from 40% in 2020 to 66% in 2021. Another 27% call them only fair and 7% excellent or good, combined. The percentage excellent/good is down from 21% in 2002.

Similarly, the 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. Republicans' negative views on both questions had dipped in early May 2020, near the start of the pandemic, although the reason isn't clear.

Line graph. Annual trend from 2002 to 2021 in Republicans outlook for U.S. moral values. Large majority has consistently said values are getting worse, with the 92% saying this today up from 66% in 2020. Just 7% say they are getting better.

Democrats' Optimism About Moral Values at All-Time High

Democrats' views about the nation's values remain more negative than positive, on balance, but their ratings have improved over the past year.

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%.

Democrats' views of the nation's moral values have varied less over the past two decades than Republicans' views have, although the percentage of Democrats rating morals as excellent or good did slump during the Trump presidency after being relatively high during Obama's last six years in office.

Line graph. Annual trend from 2002 to 2021 in Democrats view of current moral values in the country. Democrats have consistently rated values more negatively than positively, with little change over the past two decades, except for a recent decline in those calling them excellent/good. The percentage rating them this positively fell from 29% in 2015 to 15% in 2018 and is currently 22%. Another 47% rate them only fair while 30% rate them poor.

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. This is a marked shift from 2020 when two-thirds thought moral values were getting worse. Until now, no more than 36% of Democrats had said moral values were getting better, with that previous high point recorded in 2009.

Line graph. Annual trend from 2002 to 2021 in Democrats outlook for moral values in the country. Democrats have are much less pessimistic this year than they were over the past decade, and particularly while President Trump was in office. the percentage saying moral values are getting worse fell from 68% in 2020 to 49% in 2021. Close to half, 46%, now say values are getting better.

Bottom Line

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.

National perceptions on both aspects of U.S. values are fairly steady compared with a year ago. But 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.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

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