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

I. Few Americans Give "Moral" State of the Union High Marks

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.”

Americans, age 18-34, are less likely than those ages 65 and older to give the country’s moral climate a “D” or “F” (25% vs. 46%).

Catholics are about as likely to rate the nation’s moral climate positively (“A” or “B”) as they are poorly (“D” or “F”) – 28% vs. 33%. However, a majority of white Evangelicals (54%) give the country’s moral climate poor marks (“D” or “F”).

Based on the survey’s findings, Americans view the country’s moral climate through a partisan lens. Both Republicans (55%) and those who identify with the Tea Party Movement (54%) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (21%) to give the nation’s moral climate a D or an F. Roughly one third (36%) of independents gave the moral climate in the country a “D” or an “F”

II. One Quarter Say Harsh Rhetoric Contributed to Targeting of Congressperson

A majority of 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. 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 ,.

Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Republicans say the anti-government 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)

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 54% of non-Tea Party members say it did (25% a lot, 29% a little)

Nearly half of independents (48%) believe the harsh rhetoric contributed something (20% a lot, 28% a little), while over 4-in-10 (41%) say that the anti-government and violent language did not contribute to targeting the Congresswoman.

Religious Americans are also divided. More than four in ten (44%) white Christians see no link between the targeting of the Congresswoman and the harsh rhetoric. A majority of minority Christians say the violent language contributed to last week’s shooting in Arizona (33% a lot, 22% a little).

III. No Consensus on Biggest Obstacles to Changing Tone in Washington

There is little agreement on what the biggest obstacles are for leaders who want to change the tone in Washington. Democrats were more likely to blame the Tea Party and conservative talk radio. Conversely, 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. More than 1-in-5 (21%) minority Christians point towards the Tea Party as the biggest obstacle. White Christians assert 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. Half of Americans think the moral climate is the same as other industrialized nations.

Less than a quarter of Americans see our country’s moral climate as better (22%) or worse (24%) than other industrialized nations. Catholics (31%) and white Evangelicals (27%) are most likely to believe our moral climate is better than that of other industrialized nations. Only 14% of those who don’t claim any formal religious affiliation believe the moral climate in the United States is better than other nations.

Recommended citation:

Jones, Robert P., and Daniel Cox. “Only 1-in-5 Give ‘Moral State of the Union’ High Marks.” PRRI. 2011. http://www.prri.org/research/only-1-in-5-give-moral-state-of-the-union-high-marks/.