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Only 1-in-5 Give ‘Moral State of the Union’ High Marks

WASHINGTON, DC – As President Barack Obama’s third State of the Union address approaches, a new PRRI/RNS Religious News Survey released today finds that fewer than one quarter (22%) of Americans say they would give the current ‘moral state of the union’ a grade of an “A” or a “B.” The survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that nearly 4-in-10 (37%) give the country’s moral climate low marks (a “D” or “F”), and 38% give it a “C.”

“We find Americans view the country’s moral climate through a partisan lens,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of PRRI. “Both Republicans and those who identify with the Tea Party Movement are more than twice as likely as Democrats to give the nation’s moral climate a D or an F.”

The partisan divide also shows up when examining how much harsh anti-government and violent language in political debates contributed to the targeting of a member of Congress in Arizona. Though just over half of all Americans say the harsh rhetoric contributed to the targeting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (24% a lot, 27% a little), 4-in-10 say it played no role at all. Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Republicans and nearly two-thirds (64%) of those identifying with the Tea Party movement say the harsh discourse did not at all contribute to targeting the Congresswoman, while about 7-in-10 Democrats believe it did (43% a lot, 28% a little). Religious Americans are also divided – 44% of white Christians see no link at all, but a majority (55%) of minority Christians say the violent language contributed to last week’s shooting in Arizona (33% a lot, 22% a little).

“The public does not even agree on what the biggest obstacles are for leaders who want to change the tone in Washington,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “The public is pretty split as to whether cable news commentators, the Tea Party, conservative talk radio or liberal bloggers are the main road block.”

While Democrats were more likely to blame the Tea Party and conservative talk radio, Republicans and members of the Tea Party were more likely to single out liberal bloggers as the problem. Religious Americans were again split along racial lines, with more than 1-in-5 (21%) minority Christians pointing towards the Tea Party as the biggest obstacle, compared to white Christians asserting that cable news commentators created the largest roadblock (19%).

The survey did find, however, that there was strong partisan agreement on the issue of America’s moral standing compared to other industrialized nations. Fifty percent of Americans think the moral climate is the same as other industrialized nations.

Read the report.

Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology.

*Results from the survey were based on telephone interviews conducted January 13-16, 2011 among a national probability sample of 1,006 adults age 18 and older.