It depends on what the meaning of ‘moral’ is

DEPENDS ON WHAT THE MEANING OF ‘MORAL’ IS….If you ask Americans if they support gay marriage, a slim majority will say they don’t (in fact, a new ABC News poll will be released in a couple of hours saying just that). But the far more important question is where this issue ranks on the nation’s moral radar. Despite the hype, culture-war issues lack the salience of other moral controversies.

* Asked to name the most serious moral crisis in America today, 28% of Americans cite “kids not raised with the right values”; followed by 22% saying “corruption in government/business”; 17% saying “greed and materialism” or “people too focused on themselves”; and only 3% citing “abortion and homosexuality.”

* On addressing poverty: 68% of voters strongly agree that “government should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America” (89% total agree).

Ron Brownstein noted, in response to these results, that “the moral issues people worried about most in their daily lives were very different from the ones dominating political debate.”

Quite right. Polls that simply show preferences are interesting, but it’s the intensity of the belief that matters most. Americans may say they support an anti-gay constitutional amendment, but asked to name genuine moral crises that affect their families, people are far more worried with “kids nowadays” and the culture of corruption. This is not just true of secularists — among those who attend religious services most often, just 6% picked abortion and homosexuality.

The response to the question about poverty was also important, not just in demonstrating Americans’ concern for the disadvantaged, but in expanding the definition of what a moral issue actually is. Too often in our political discourse, issues that are characterized as “moral” or related to “values” are necessarily connected to conservatives. This is nonsense. If abortion and gay rights are moral issues, so are poverty, the environment, and health care.

As George Will, of all people, put it, “The phrase ‘values voters,’ which has become ubiquitous, subtracts from social comity by suggesting that one group has cornered the market on moral seriousness.” As polls like this one help show, they haven’t.