Decline in Moral Values in the U.S. Caused by the Political Divide
Closing the Moral Value Gap Between Republican and Democrats
I have previously blogged about the results of a poll by Gallup released on June 24, 2021, that found nearly half of Americans believe the nation’s moral values are in poor condition, and a significantly higher percentage predict those standards are only going to get worse.
But the Gallup survey also found political realities in the U.S. have driven those attitudes to higher highs and lower lows in the past 12 months depending on respondents’ views on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“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,” Gallup researchers said. In today’s blogs I’ll explore the reasons for the political divide.
The differences between political parties are notable given past assessments of the nation’s moral condition, the pollsters added: “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.”
Those pessimistic about the future of America’s moral condition improved slightly from 68% this year to 67% in 2021, Gallup said. “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.”
But in 2021 it is members of the GOP who are most likely to see American moral values in the dimmest light. According to Gallup, Republicans who harbor negative views of American moral standards have increased from 46% in 2020 to 66% this year.
That’s “easily the highest percentage of Republicans viewing values this negatively since the inception of the trend in 2002,” Gallup said. “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.”
Gallup added that only 27% of Republicans describe the nation’s moral state as “fair” and 7% see it as either “excellent” or “good.”
Members of the party reached another milestone, according to the survey: “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.”
It’s not surprising to me that Republicans are more pessimistic about the trajectory of moral values in the U.S. than Democrats, especially with the Democrats in control of the White House and Congress. One reason for the divide is the way in which each party defines moral values.
Moral values are the traits of behavior that are associated with goodness. Moral people are honest, caring, empathetic, and responsible. They act in the best interests of others, not only of themselves. Moral values can also be viewed in light of the social and economic conditions for thriving in America.
Here is one example. Republicans look at factors such as work ethic in defining moral values in society while Republicans associate moral values more with social and economic equality. Both are worthy norms of behavior, but to judge people on them we need context.
We could say that Democrats believe they act in accordance with moral values because in their view caring and concern for others and responsible behavior are part and parcel of lifting everyone up to the same level of social and economic equality. Democrat views, in fact, emphasize how decisions made by the government impact the lives of our citizens. It may take government programs to bring about equality but so be it. To do so is for the greater good.
Republicans, on the other hand, recognize the need for economic equality but do not think it is the job of the government to bring it about. In fact, they would probably say it’s more caring and responsible for someone to achieve economic equality based on hard work – a strong work ethic – and not because the government believes in intervention. It’s more of an individualistic approach to moral values than what drives Democratic points of view.
So, the issue comes down to whether we judge moral values by personal behavior or whether we judge them based on the outcomes to society. In my view, both perspectives are important.
To close the political divide on moral values, Republicans and Democrats need to come together and develop a plan to incorporate traditional moral values into decision-making so that ethics is front and center in whatever they decide and whatever they do. They need to come to a consensus about the role of individuals in a free society and that of the government.
I recognize that both Republican and Democratic views are valid. Each side needs to listen to the other and find common ground. Each side needs to give a little so that our country can bring prosperity to all including those who have been shut out for many years. However, the word compromise does not seem to be in the DNA of those in Congress.
We need to dial down the political rhetoric because it’s not only unhealthy for a functioning government but more so for the everyday lives of Americans who see their leaders bicker and get nothing done to improve the American condition.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on August 10, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.