Americans’ Concept of Moral Values Don’t Match Bush’s

Americans who think that combating hunger and child abuse are important moral issues far outnumber those concerned about same sex marriage or abortion.

A poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University of 1,001 adult residents of the United Sates found considerable disagreement over which issues Americans would list as important moral concerns. The study found that “moral values” _ the top concern cited by voters in exit polls during the Nov. 2 presidential election _ is a highly diverse concept that means a great many things to different Americans.

The survey asked people to rate 13 issues, ranging from divorce to the nation’s military operations in Iraq, as “a very important, somewhat important or not important moral issue.”

Those issues that seemed to threaten harm or cause suffering easily surpassed all other concerns mentioned in the poll, even those issues commonly cited as critical problems during last year’s elections. For example, 89 percent said child abuse is a very important moral issue, as did 77 percent on spousal abuse and 71 on the general topic of hunger.

The least-often cited concerns were gambling, of which just 18 percent said is a very important moral issue, homosexuality with 31 percent and same sex marriage with 38 percent.

In the middle of the pack was conduct that commonly occurs despite prevailing attitudes that they are immoral or, at least, socially unfortunate. Divorce was rated as very important by 40 percent, while 45 percent listed pornography and 44 percent listed “greed in America” as top concerns.

Attitudes on many of these issues varied among different demographic groups. For example, women were twice as likely to list pornography as a top moral issue than were men. But one of the most consistent dividing lines for these issues were political party identification.

About the only issues upon which Democrats and Republicans agree are the convictions that gambling is not an especially pressing moral issue while child abuse overwhelmingly represents a pressing concern.

Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to believe that abortion, divorce and pornography are a very important moral issues. Democrats, by equally wide margins, were more likely than Republicans to think that hunger and greed in America are top moral issues.

Republicans and Democrats were most fiercely divided over the related issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Just 19 percent of Democrats thought homosexuality was a very important issue, compared to 48 percent of Republicans. Sixty percent of Republicans said same-sex marriage is a top concern, compared to 30 percent of Democrats.

The two parties were in general agreement on the moral importance of the U.S. military operations in Iraq, with similar majorities of both parties saying “America’s decision to start a war with Iraq” and “America’s post-war occupation of Iraq” are top moral issues. The agreement of the moral importance of Iraq operations occurs even though Republicans overwhelmingly approve of U.S. involvement in Iraq while Democrats generally are opposed.

However, the parties were again sharply divided over whether “America’s treatment of prisoners in Iraq” is an important moral issue. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans said they consider the scandal to be a top issue.

The survey was conducted by telephone from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10 at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. It has a margin of error of about 4 percentage points. It was funded through a grant from the Scripps Foundation.

(Thomas Hargrove is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service. Guido H. Stempel III is director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.)