The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
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

    On Our Site

  • Clinton Accused Special Report
  • Poll Vault: The online archive of Post surveys
  • The Post's polling director on how polls work and 'What Americans Think'.
  •   About This Survey

    Sunday, December 27, 1998

    Three Decades of Change

    Since the 1960s, Americans have grown deeply suspicious of the federal government and increasingly worry that the country's moral and ethical standards have eroded.

    Q. How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington to do the right thing: Just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?

                                        1968         1998

    All/Most 61% 33%

    Some/None 36 65

    1968 data: University of Michigan National Election Studies

    Q. In your opinion, which of the following do you think will be the biggest threat to the country in the future: big business, big labor or big government?

                                       1965          1998

    Big business 17% 25%

    Big labor 29 11

    Big government 35 59

    Don't know 18 6

    1965 data: The Gallup Organization

    Q. Do you think people in general today lead as good lives -- honest and moral -- as they used to?

                                        1965         1998

    Yes 39% 26%

    No 52 71

    1965 data: The Gallup Organization

    Looking Ahead

    Voters say that a candidate's stands on the important issues will matter most when they select a president in the year 2000. Still, about one in four say personal morals or the broad principles and values a candidate stands for will be the deciding factors for them. And a majority fear the country is becoming too tolerant of harmful behavior.

    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: 37%

    The candidate's personal morals and ethics: 16%

    The broad principles and values a candidate campaigns on: 10%

    The candidate's experience: 10%

    The candidate's political party: 8%

    All of the above: 10%

    None of the above: 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, or that the country will become too intolerant of behaviors that do not do any real harm to society?

    Too tolerant                                      55%

    Too intolerant 38

    Clinton and His Generation

    Most Americans believe President Clinton has low moral and ethical standards -- just like the rest of his generation.

    Q. Please tell me whether the following statement applies to Clinton, or not: He has high personal moral and ethical standards.

    Yes                                               24%

    No 71

    Q. As you know, Clinton is a member of the generation that came of age in the 1960s. Do you think that Clinton's moral and ethical standards are better, worse or about the same as those of most people in his generation?

    Better                                             7%

    Worse 27

    Same 61

    NOTE: Percentages may not total 100 because those who expressed no opinion are not shown. Results for 1998 shown here come from four surveys conducted between August and December by The Washington Post, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. Sample sizes varied between 1,000 and 2,000 with margins of sampling error of about plus or minus 3 percentage points. Sample sizes of earlier polls also ranged between 1,000 to 2,000.

    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 questionnaire 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.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar