Is Morality in Decline? Most Americans See Broad Moral Decline; A Monitor Poll Shows That Most Americans Think Their Country's Moral Standards Are Falling and That Stronger Families Must Be the Solution
John Dillin Managing editor of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Across the land, Americans see falling moral and ethical standards. It's evident on all sides - in the Oval Office, at the local multiplex, on the TV shows beamed into their homes.
A new nationwide Monitor poll finds Americans concerned that this moral miasma is making it tougher to overcome problems like violence, drug use, and teen pregnancy.
President Clinton has done a poor job of moral leadership, the survey found. But as Congress wrestled with impeachment, people generally refused to cast a stone at the president. His standards are "about the same" as most presidents', many Americans said. Instead of attacking Mr. Clinton, they said that turning around the moral crisis should begin with strengthening the family and emphasizing spiritual values. Widespread evidence of moral decay can be found in every American city: Sleazy movies, drug pushers, vulgar TV shows, neglected children, broken families. Americans - viewing this picture - say they are concerned that standards of morals and ethics in the United States have slipped badly as the 20th century draws to a close, according to a new nationwide poll commissioned by The Christian Science Monitor. Many of those surveyed express concern that levels of morality and ethics will sink even lower before things begin to improve. The national opinion poll of 800 Americans was conducted for the Monitor by Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics (TIPP), based in Oradell, N.J. A majority of those interviewed said: * Today's moral climate in the US is worse than it was in the 1950s. * America's moral decline has made the crisis of crime, violence, drug use, and teen pregnancy significantly worse. * Television, movies, and pop music are all dragging down the nation's values. * President Clinton has done a poor job of moral leadership, though many Americans (47 percent) say his moral standards are "about the same" as most other presidents. * Religion and the family have great impact on the nation's morals, but their influence is declining. * Education should have a positive effect on morals, but it is failing to fulfill that responsibility. * Religious leaders are highly rated for their moral values. But several other major groups, including politicians and business executives, get an overall negative rating on morals and ethics. The Monitor/TIPP survey was conducted by telephone, with numbers chosen randomly by computer to ensure an accurate scientific sample. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The survey found that if Americans have one solution to the nation's moral decline, it is this: Strengthen the family. One of those polled, Mike Hahs of San Clemente, Calif., a father of four, says that ultimately, maintaining morality is "primarily" a role for the family. "I don't delegate the teaching of morality to schools," he says. "That's largely my responsibility." The poll results show that a large cross section of Americans would agree with Mr. Hahs. How serious is the problem? From Los Angeles to New York, Americans are universal in their concerns about the nation's declining levels of morality and ethics. In every major region of the country, a majority agree that the nation's values have weakened since the 1950s, the poll found. That view is particularly evident in the South and West. Among distinct groups of Americans, concerns are strongest among Republicans, whites, and people over the age of 55. Ann Echard, a second-grade teacher, and one of those surveyed, sees the impact of the country's lower standards on the children in her classroom in Bakersfield, Calif. The moral climate, she says, is clearly "getting worse," and is being affected by what people see on TV and "even the Internet." The results show up with children, who often reflect both physical and emotional neglect, she says, in part because their "parents are struggling to keep their heads above water," and in part simply because some parents are "just being selfish. …