This’ll be one of those posts where I confess I just don’t know what the heck is going on. But the info seems so compelling – and possibly contradictory – that it can’t be ignored.
The first half of the puzzle comes from Gallup’s new finding that a large (81 percent) of Americans judge the country’s moral values to be “only fair” or “poor,” and that 77 percent believe that this problem is getting worse. Although I know there will be many who are tempted to respond with something to the effect of “Ah, Trump,” keep in mind that these numbers haven’t changed dramatically since the company began asking such questions in 2002. (Somewhat greater shifts – for the worse – are evident since the early 1990s, when Gallup’s questions were somewhat differently worded.)
Another intriguing result: More than a third of respondents rated the state of U.S. morality as “fair” – which isn’t necessarily negative. In fact, combining the 36 percent of Americans taking this view with the (dwindling) share who view it as “excellent/good” (17 percent) sums to a majority that’s arguably pleased with the nation’s ethics. And these sub-categories (called “internals” by polling insiders) have remained broadly stable over the last decade and a half as well.
Less intriguing: Over the last year, self-identified social liberals have become much more concerned about America’s morals, with the share perceiving a worsening spurting from 58 percent to 71 percent. Social moderates became markedly more pessimistic, too, and that definitely looks like a Trump effect. So does the less dramatic drop in the share of those considering themselves as social conservatives telling Gallup that moral decay intensified during that time.
But here’s where the real mystery comes in. Another Gallup survey, taken just a few weeks ago, reported “Americans Hold Record Liberal Views on Most Moral Issues”. Give the company credit: It’s recognized the apparent paradox: “Even liberals, who seemingly should be pleased with the growing number of Americans who agree with their point of view on the morality of prominent social issues, are more likely to say things are getting worse than getting better.”
Gallup offers two possible explanations, but I don’t find them especially convincing. The first, after all, assumes (at least logically) that social liberals believe that many Americans who have swung their way on gay marriage, marijuana legalization, abortion, and the like are still insensitive (at best) toward racism and poverty. Or even have become more so. The second assumes that liberals believe that these same, increasingly tolerant Americans keep displaying “lack of respect or tolerance for others,” or are getting even coarser.
Nor am I persuaded by another possible explanation that could well be proposed by social conservatives: that although they increasingly support more liberal moral positions and views, deep down inside, liberals and moderates recognize them as dangerous and therefore perceive American morals to be declining.
So I’m left in the dark, but certain something important is taking place within the national psyche. What do all of you think?