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Study Finds Most Americans Want Limited Gov't Role in Morality

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published



For the first time since the data has been tracked, a decisive majority of Americans believe government should not favor any set of values. According to Gallup, fifty-two percent of Americans believe it is not the government’s role to promote moral values, while forty-four percent support an emphasis on traditional values.

The survey, which Gallup has conducted since 1993, is part of the organization’s annual polling on governance. It questions Republicans, Democrats, and independents on the government’s role in morality and passing legislation that favors what is commonly referred to as “traditional values” over any other set of values.

It is no surprise that the biggest gap between people who favor traditional moral values and those who believe the government should have a limited role in matters of morality is with Republicans. The Republican Party, consisting of many social conservatives, has traditionally supported social and domestic policies that adhere to a particular moral structure.

According to the poll’s results, sixty-five percent of Republicans surveyed said they believe traditional values have a role in how elected officials govern. However, Gallup pointed out a dramatic shift that has occurred within the Republican Party. In eight years, that figure has dropped fourteen percentage points. It is the largest decline of the three voting groups.

Independent voters are more likely to disagree with the notion that the government should push through policy and legislation that favors a set of moral values than they are to agree with such an idea. In 2004, the division was 51-44. Today, the figure has changed slightly to 54-41.


Overall, support for the traditional values position has been on the decline since 2002 with a few bumps here and there. The support for traditional values reached fifty percent in 2005 and has risen over that threshold only twice since then -- in 2009 and 2010. The figure has decreased sharply over the course of two years.

Does this mean Americans are becoming more amoral? Absolutely not. Morality has always been a subjective construct and what society deems as right and wrong; inappropriate and appropriate, has changed significantly in the last decade alone. What people are seeing is a shift in how people perceive the role of government in society and people’s lives.

The results of the poll are consistent with trends on various issues, including increased support nationwide for same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana. More people are leaning towards the idea that government should take less of a role in societal issues and people's private lives.

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