Ethics Observations On Gallup’s U.S. “Moral Values” Poll

Gallup released a depressing poll last week that it headlined, “Record-High 50% of Americans Rate U.S. Moral Values as ‘Poor.'” Like many Gallup polls, but perhaps more than most, this one suffered badly from a failure a define terms and to ensure that respondents were basing their judgments on the same understanding of “values.” Using the term “moral” rather than “ethical” to define values is a crippling error: it automatically directs attention to religion. This, in turn, probably explains this chart…

…in which twice as many Republicans as Democrats rate the state of “moral values” as “poor.” About twice as many Republicans and Democrats are religious: the result was preordained. Morality involves behavioral codes, notably the Ten Commandments. Republicans are more likely to believe that such codes should guide conduct, although the whole point of moral codes is that one doesn’t have to think: just follow the code, and you’ll be “good.” Democrats have increasingly embraced the idea of subjective values and personal codes, “pursuing one’s truth.” Their idea of poor values are values that seem contrary to their objectives.

The poll does not rank values, or even require respondents to identify what values they think are being violated or ignored. Thus the figures given for various measurements in the poll are by definition apples, oranges and eggplants mash-ups. For example, a core ethical value is fairness, but progressives increasingly believe what is fair is for everyone to achieve the same level of success, security, comfort and power regardless of effort, ability, or contributions to society. Conservatives believe  fairness means that every individual should be allowed to achieve according to his or her aspirations and best efforts given the resources, talents and opportunities distributed by the vicissitudes of life and luck, and keep and use the rewards of those efforts, if any. Asking whether a group believes that life in the U.S. is fair when the group holds diametrically opposed definitions of the word is useless.

Similarly, an increasing component of the American Left believes that the U.S. Constitution embodies the wrong values. They believe it would be more “moral” to censor speech so as not to “harm” vulnerable populations; to keep “dangerous” ideas and “misinformation” advocated by Bad People from being heard or read. They believe that a right to self-defense is “immoral” because the tools of self-defense can be used to kill. They also believe, as we have seen in recent weeks, that it is “moral” to allow the mass killing of the unborn, because otherwise women are hindered in their opportunities and life choices by “unfair” biology. Most conservatives view those positions as opposition to American values.

This chart, which purports to show what those polled felt were the reasons for their pessimism about America’s moral trend, highlights the weakness of the poll:

I don’t know what “top problem with the state of moral values” means, and obviously the respondents didn’t either. The problem with moral values is a lack of moral values? What values? “Consideration of others” isn’t a moral value, it’s an ethical value: Reciprocity, the Golden Rule and all that jazz. Democrats and Republicans agree that the current culture is insufficiently considerate of others, but progressives think “consideration of others” means letting illegal aliens breach our borders, not charging poor people with shoplifting, allowing abortions right up to birth and crippling the economy in consideration of future generations who may face a climate change crisis in a few hundred years. Conservatives believe those policies are madly inconsiderate, and that inconsiderate is putting it mildly.

Everything else is dwarfed by the contradictory “consideration” category, but “racism/discrimination” is equally ambiguous. The progressive antiracism policies mandate anti-white discrimination. The same problem makes other categories incoherent: Whose “greed/selfishness”? Which “dishonesty/integrity” is a respondent thinking about? The news media’s? Biden’s? Trump’s?

For a more general ethics lament about the poll results, I’m going to direct you over to “The Ethics Sage,” Dr. Steven Mintz, Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, who blogged about the Gallup poll last week. For the most part, Steven’s visceral reaction is the same as mine. He concludes,

The moral decline in America, in my view, challenges the long-accepted notion that America is exceptional. Our former President Ronald Reagan emphasized, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

Many still believe this and point to all the immigrants who seek to enter the country mostly through our southern border. But let’s not forget that most of them are acting in an illegal manner and the government seems to turn a blind eye to it, which makes matters worse. Are we a country that no longer enforces its laws? Are we a country that no longer believes there should be consequences for bad behavior?

4 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Gallup’s U.S. “Moral Values” Poll

  1. “’Consideration of others’ isn’t a moral value, it’s an ethical value: Reciprocity, the Golden Rule and all that jazz.”
    So, when Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” He was making an ethical rather than a moral pronouncement? Seems like there is a t least a bit of overlap there.

    • Jesus was in particular preaching internalizing ethical values over blind adherence to moral codes; motivation by conscientious love of neighbor, rather than the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

  2. I consider myself ” a moral person” who observes culture. my rating for the first question “what is the moral state of the nation” would be low. One only has to look at the product of the entertainment business to see myriad examples of amorality. As a conservative who often votes with the Republican policies, I would have to know who is the object of the second question not who I am. The question should be “how do you rate the moral stance of the ####party? The increase in racism is due to a media blitz that sees racism everywhere, the decrease in concern for family structure is the product of policies that denigrate family and reward the absence of intact families

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