Moral judgments often split along party lines

March 19, 2018, 5:00 PM GMT+0

48% of Republicans say it's acceptable to vote for a presidential candidate who has done immoral acts, while only 19% of Democrats agree

Our judgments of what is moral and immoral are affected by our party identification – and sometimes what we may view as morally wrong behavior in general gets forgiven or ignored based on who is accused. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, nine in ten Democrats and Republicans say extramarital affairs are morally wrong, but Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they are willing to give presidential candidates a pass if they have done immoral acts in the past.

Republicans are divided on whether or not divorce is morally acceptable or morally wrong, something three in four Democrats say is acceptable.

Americans often give politicians a pass based on who they are: in 1998 Republicans were much more convinced than Democrats that President Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior in office was wrong and that he should be punished. (A CBS News poll in October 1998 found three in four Republicans wanting Clinton to be punished in some way for his behavior, while a majority (56%) of Democrats wanted to drop the matter and not even have Congress reprimand Clinton). But now, Republicans give twice-divorced President Trump the benefit of the doubt. In fact, half of Republicans say it is appropriate to vote for someone who has done immoral acts. More than half of them say doing this is not hypocritical.

The most recent charge against President Trump comes from adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with the President in 2006, when he was married to his current wife, Melania. Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to say they have heard “a lot” about this charge. Most Republicans think it is an issue of “very little importance.” Trump voters are even more insistent that it doesn’t matter.

Only 5% of Trump voters say they would have changed their vote had they learned of the story a week before the election.

But this poll also makes clear that sometimes Republicans and Democrats have very different views about right and wrong. Majorities in both parties agree that gambling and alcohol use are morally acceptable (the poll asked specifically about moral acceptability and not whether or not acts should be legal). So is birth control, with women more supportive than men. Most in both parties also say interracial marriage is morally acceptable (although one in four Republicans and conservatives disagree).

Partisans also agree that some things are morally wrong: extramarital affairs, cloning humans, killing animals for their fur, and hunting animals for sport. In both of the latter examples, Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say they are morally acceptable.

Among Republicans, there is an enormous difference in opinion between men and women. Republican men say hunting animals for sport is morally acceptable, but two in three GOP women disagree. One-third (33%) of Republican women find hunting animals for sport morally acceptable, but twice as many say hunting for sport is morally wrong. The same is true when it comes to killing animals for their fur: Republican men are evenly divided on this, Republican women find this morally wrong.

The parties clearly are different on other issues: abortion, the death penalty, doctor-assisted suicide, premarital sex, and gay and lesbian sexual relationships. Nearly two in three Democrats find abortion morally acceptable, while more than three quarters of Republicans do not. Overall, 56% of the public says abortion is morally wrong (that doesn’t mean that many would outlaw it entirely). A narrow majority of Democrats also disagree with the majority when it comes to the death penalty, as 53% of Democrats call that morally wrong. Most Republicans find the death penalty acceptable.

Doctor-assisted suicide divides the country; most Democrats say that’s acceptable, while most Republicans disagree.

It is Republicans who take a position different from Americans overall on two questions asking about sex: premarital sex and gay and lesbian relations. Majorities of the country (and even larger majorities of Democrats) say these actions are morally acceptable; a majority of Republicans (57%) describe premarital sex as morally wrong; two-thirds say that about gay and lesbian relations.

Read the latest topline and table results here

Photo: Getty

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