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Jun 02 2011

What We Accept

Gallup has released the results of their 2011 Values and Beliefs Poll. While they’re framing the results in terms of U.S. self-image and controversial topics, I want to take a minute to do a straight ranking. What do we, as a nation find most and least morally acceptable?

Divorce (69% find morally acceptable)
The death penalty (65%)
Gambling (64%)
Medical research using embryonic stem cells (62%)
Sex between an unmarried man and woman (60%)
Buying and wearing clothes made of animal fur (56%)
Gay or lesbian relations (56%)
Medical testing on animals (55%)
Having a baby outside of marriage (54%)
Doctor-assisted suicide (45%)
Abortion (39%)
Cloning animals (32%)
Pornography (30%)
Suicide (15%)
Cloning humans (12%)
Polygamy (11%)
Married men and women having an affair (7%)

It’s an…interesting list. Spending extra money to execute prisoners is more than twice as “morally” acceptable as pornography as a whole. Suicide is three times as “right” with a doctor’s help. Having multiple partners only becomes half again as acceptable if it’s part of a codified arrangement.

It’s a simple poll, of course. There are shades of gray, definitional issues, and overlapping demographics reflected in these numbers. But it’s still interesting to look at our ranked moral judgments.

Just as interesting is to see the generational differences that are shifting the political landscape on these questions. Here are the same issues, ranked for just the 18-34 year olds polled.

Divorce (72%)
Gambling (71%)
Sex between an unmarried man and woman (71%)
Medical research using embryonic stem cells (66%)
Gay or lesbian relations (66%)
Having a baby outside of marriage (62%)
The death penalty (56%)
Buying and wearing clothes made of animal fur (55%)
Medical testing on animals (47%)
Doctor-assisted suicide (46%)
Abortion (44%)
Pornography (42%)
Cloning animals (36%)
Polygamy (19%)
Cloning humans (18%)
Suicide (14%)
Married men and women having an affair (8%)

Almost everything is seen as more morally acceptable. Sex and non-heteronormative relationships come out much further ahead, except for marital infidelity. The big losers are the death penalty and medical testing on animals. Given the anomalous answers between fur and animal testing, however, I suspect at least one of those numbers isn’t stable over the long term.

I don’t know that I have anything interesting to add on the topic, except to note that there is very little in the way of underlying principles that could explain results like this. Oh, what an odd, inconsistent nation we are when it comes to moral judgments. Mine too, since there isn’t anywhere on either of these rankings that I could personally draw a line between yes and no. In fact, there are only about half a dozen where I could accurately answer anything other than, “Well, it depends.”

1 comment

  1. 1
    Heather M. Rosa

    Fur vs. animal testing: One might suppose that death of a fur-bearing animal is quick and testing long and painful, hence different rankings.Suicide vs. Dr. assisted suicide: Again, one might assume that solitary suicide is a result of mental illness and could have been prevented with proper medical treatment, although not always true. Dr. assisted suicide can be seen more as a way not to prolong suffering and thus be of some benefit and a more rational choice at what is likely to be near the end of life anyway.In those lights, the results are not so contradictory. Because you're right: it depends.

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