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In This Series
  • Part One: Politics and Scandal
  • Part Two: Fractured Parties
  • Part Three: Campaigns for the 90s
  • Part Four: The Political Divide
  • Part Five: The Politics of Religion
  • Part Six: Views on Homosexuality
  • Part Seven: 1968-1998

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  •   About This Survey

    Friday, September 11, 1998

    The Survey Team

    These surveys are the fifth in a series of projects that The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University are conducting on contemporary issues.

    Representatives of the three sponsors worked closely to develop the survey questionnaire and analyze the results on which this series is based. The Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation with Harvard University are publishing independent summaries of the findings; each organization bears the sole responsibility for the work that appears under its name. The Kaiser Family Foundation and The Post paid for the surveys and related expenses. The survey data will be sent later this year to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, where copies of the survey questionnaires and data will be available.

    The project team included Richard Morin, Post director of polling, and Claudia Deane, assistant director of polling; Robert J. Blendon, a Harvard University professor who holds joint appointments in the School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government, and John Benson, deputy director for public opinion and health/social policy at the Harvard School of Public Health; Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Mollyann Brodie, director of special projects for the Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors research into health care and other public policy issues.

    About This Series

    The Post/Harvard/Kaiser poll results released today are a small portion of the overall study. Over the next eight weeks, The Post will publish a series of occasional articles to illuminate the role that values and moral issues play in the 1998 political campaigns. Future articles will identify the key values that define and divide the Republican and Democratic parties. Other stories will document how politicians attempt to exploit concerns about values to win elections, and will look at specific values-laden issues that are playing decisive roles in national, state and local politics this year.

    Q. Which of these comes closer to your opinion?

    The president is like the head of any organization: As long as he does a good job running the country, whatever he does in his personal life is not important: 48%

    The president has a greater responsibility than leaders of other organizations to set an example with his personal life: 49%

    Neither/No opinion: 3%

    SOURCE: Washington Post/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/ Harvard University poll

    A Sense of Moral Decline

    Many Americans believe something has gone wrong with the nation's moral compass and the White House scandal is a symptom of moral decline, according to a poll by The Washington Post, Harvard University and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

    Values in America

    Q. Now thinking just about values and moral beliefs, do you think things in this country are generally going in the right direction or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?

    Right direction: 21%

    Wrong track: 76%

    No opinion: 3%

    Q. Do you think that people and groups that hold values similar to yours are gaining influence in American life in general these days, or do you think that they are losing influence?

    Gaining influence: 35%

    Losing influence: 55%

    Neither*: 6%

    No opinion: 4%

    Q. Which of the following worries you more about the future:

    That the country will become too tolerant of behaviors that are bad for society: 66%

    That the country will become too intolerant of behaviors that don't do any real harm to society: 28%

    No opinion: 6%

    Personal Values

    Q. Now I am going to read a list of things that some people do. For each, thinking about your own values and morals, I'd like you to tell me whether you think it is: always acceptable; acceptable in some situations but not in others; unacceptable, but should be tolerated by society; or unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

    A married person having an affair

    Always acceptable: 1%

    Sometimes acceptable: 10%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 17%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 72%

    Smoking marijuana

    Always acceptable: 5%

    Sometimes acceptable: 26%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 12%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 55%

    Sex between two adults of the same sex

    Always acceptable: 13%

    Sometimes acceptable: 14%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 18%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 53%

    Sex before marriage

    Always acceptable: 21%

    Sometimes acceptable: 34%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 19%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 24%

    Having a child without being married

    Always acceptable: 16%

    Sometimes acceptable: 41%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 23%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 18%

    Drinking alcohol

    Always acceptable: 16%

    Sometimes acceptable: 57%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 9%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 17%


    Always acceptable: 19%

    Sometimes acceptable: 57%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 14%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 9%

    Marriages between blacks and whites

    Always acceptable: 52%

    Sometimes acceptable: 23%

    Unacceptable, but tolerated: 11%

    Unacceptable and not tolerated: 12%

    Political Values

    Q. Which of the following do you think will be most important to you in choosing the next president ...

    The candidate's stands on the issues: 38%

    The candidate's personal morals and ethics: 24%

    The broad principles and values the candidate campaigns on: 15%

    The candidate's experience: 13%

    The candidate's political party: 4%

    All/None/No opinion: 6%

    Q. Which of these comes closer to your opinion?

    The president is like the head of any organization: As long as he does a good job running the country, whatever he does in his personal life is not important: 49%

    The president has a greater responsibility than leaders of other organizations to set an example with his personal life: 48%

    Neither/No opinion: 3%

    Q. Which political party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you trust to do a better job on encouraging high moral standards and values?

    Republicans: 41%

    Democrats: 26%

    Neither*: 20%

    Both*: 4%

    No opinion: 9%

    *Volunteered response

    NOTE: Percentages may not add up to 100 because the responses of those with no opinion have been omitted for some items. Results presented here are from two Washington Post/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University telephone surveys with randomly selected adults nationwide. The first survey was conducted July 29 to Aug. 18 among 2,025 adults; the second was conducted Aug. 10 to 27 among 1,200 adults. The margin of error for overall results is at maximum plus or minus 3 percentage points. Sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll. Interviewing was conducted by Chilton Research of Horsham, Pa.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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