The 2022 elections will determine which political party has control over Congress. With a wide range of important social issues on the ballot, new YouGov research looks at Americans’ perceptions of how moral the current political system in the U.S. is.
YouGov asked 2,000 Americans about their opinions on the morality of political parties and institutions, as well as how morality and moral transgressions may affect their voting intentions.
The moral compass: How important is morality to Americans?
Nine in 10 Americans (88%) say that being moral is somewhat or very important to them.
More Republicans (81%) than Democrats (68%) say that being moral is very important to them, while this only applies to 62% of Independents. The importance of morality increases with age: While 52% of Americans between 18 and 44 say that being moral is very important to them, 83% of those 45 and older say the same.
How moral do Americans think Congress is?
Congress is the branch of the federal government that the largest share of Americans (62%) say is somewhat or very immoral, according to the poll taken less than two weeks before the biennial congressional elections. While this view is shared by 55% of Democrats, it is held by 74% of Republicans. Americans 45 and older (74%) are more likely than younger adults (49%) to say that Congress is immoral.
About half of Americans (49%) say the presidency is conducting its role somewhat or very immorally, and 45% say the same about the judiciary.
When it comes to rating members of the country's two major political parties — as well as Independents — on their morality, Americans lean heavily toward their own group. About two-thirds of Democrats and a similar share of Republicans say that members of their party are somewhat or very moral — 70% for Democrats; 68% for Republicans — but just 42% of Independents say the same about their group. However, just 17% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans say that the opposite party is somewhat or very moral. These patterns are in line with the country's stark partisan divide overall.
Do Americans factor morality into their voting intentions?
One in four Americans (26%) say that they would prefer to vote for a candidate who is more moral but less effective, while 19% say the opposite: that they would prefer a candidate who is more effective and less moral. Two in five (40%) say they would prefer neither of the two options.
Similar shares of Democrats and Republicans say that they would prefer a candidate who is more moral but less effective — 32% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans — and that they would prefer a candidate who is more effective but less moral (21% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans). The preference for candidates who are more effective but less moral decreases with age, with 27% of adults18 to 29 years old saying they would prefer this type of candidate, but only 12% of Americans 65 and older saying the same.
Although Americans say they highly value morality in politics, they also appear to forgive some moral transgressions. By 45% to 30%, Americans say they would consider voting for a candidate who committed tax fraud 20 years ago, assuming they agree with their policies. Most Republicans (58%) say they would still vote for a candidate who committed tax fraud 20 years ago, while 44% of Democrats and 37% of Independents agree. Of the three groups, Democrats are most likely to say they would not vote for the politician who committed tax fraud, even if they agreed with their policies — 37% say this, compared to 25% of Republicans.
However, taking bribes appears to be more frowned upon than committing tax fraud: by 43% to 31%, Americans say they would not vote for a candidate who took a bribe 20 years ago, even if they agree with their policies.
Finally, when asked whether political decisions should prioritize public interest or morality, more than twice as many Americans say politicians should prioritize morality even if it doesn’t serve the public interest than say politicians should prioritize the public interest over morality (36% vs. 15%). Republicans are especially likely to choose morality over public interest, by 49% to 12%. By 41% to 9%, Americans 65 and older agree. Democrats and adults under 45, by contrast, are less likely to place morality over public interest, though they still are more likely to prioritize the public interest over morality in their politicians' decision-making.
The study is a part of our big research project on morality in the U.S. Past big survey topics in the UK include war, sleep, and food.
— Carl Bialik and Milan Dinic contributed to this article.
The poll was conducted among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys conducted from October 27 - 31, 2022 and October 28 - 31, 2022, with each survey conducted among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Josh Barwick (Unsplash)