The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Democratic and Republican morals compare to the rest of the world

A six-pack of Boston Beer Co. Sam Adams Boston Lager sits displayed on a table during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

A Pew Research Center report out this week finds that morality is in many ways a function of where you live. It polled people in 40 countries on issues such as extramarital affairs, abortion and homosexuality to see whether people thought these behaviors were acceptable, unacceptable or simply not a moral issue. Even better, Pew provided breakdowns of American respondents by party. Read on to see how Democrats and Republicans compare to the rest of the world on eight different questions.


Contraception is one area where Democrats and Republicans are in agreement with each other, and with most of the rest of the world. Fewer than 10 percent of Democrats and Republicans say contraception is morally unacceptable -- kind of makes you wonder what all the hoopla over the Obamacare contraception mandate is about, doesn't it? Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the region with the highest opposition to contraception, at 37 percent opposed.


American views on the morality of alcohol are quite surprising -- one in five Democrats say drinking alcohol is morally unacceptable, slightly higher than the percentage of Republicans who say the same. This percentage seems appallingly high to me, although I suspect that says more about my own moral standards than those of the country. If you are going to drink, at least drink efficiently.


Americans are only slightly more opposed to gambling than they are to drinking. While there's a wider gap between Democrats and Republicans on this question, Americans are still significantly less likely to express opposition to rolling the dice than their international counterparts.


When it comes to divorce, Democratic and Republic viewpoints begin to diverge. Republicans are twice as likely to oppose divorce (37 percent) as Democrats (17 percent). Democrats are, in fact, slightly less censorious of divorce than they are of drinking, although the three-point difference is within the survey's sample error in the United States. Europeans are even more permissive of divorce than American Democrats. And when it comes to divorce, U.S. Republicans are even more restrictive than respondents in the Middle East, where only 20 percent say the practice is morally unacceptable.

Premarital sex

Nearly half of Republicans say premarital sex is morally unacceptable, compared to only 25 percent of Democrats. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Europeans are even more permissive on the issue, with only 15 percent calling it unacceptable.


More than half of Republicans say homosexuality is morally unacceptable. Supporters of same-sex marriage in the United States have often voiced frustration at Republican zeal for "defending the sanctity of marriage" on same-sex issues but turning the other cheek when it comes to divorce. The Pew poll partially explains why this is: Republicans are much more likely to consider homosexuality a moral issue than they are divorce. Republicans are much stricter on this issue than even respondents from Latin American countries, which tend to have large Catholic populations.


On abortion, American Republicans are in agreement with respondents in most of the world's other regions, who find it morally unacceptable. U.S. Democrats and Europeans are the outliers here.

Extramarital affairs

Finally, the world is in general agreement that extramarital shenanigans are a no-no. There is a sizable 13-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on the issue, but overwhelming majorities of both parties disapprove of the practice. Opposition to affairs is weakest in Europe, where the French take the prize for being least opposed to them, at less than 50 percent.

There's a cautionary tale in here for American politicians: You can drink, gamble and get divorced, and voters may very well forgive you. But if you get caught cheating, it won't be easy to kiss and make up.