Americans give thumbs-down to moral climate

Maybe it's the Clinton pardons. Maybe it's the gun violence in schools, or the sleazy movies coming out of Hollywood. Whatever the reason, Americans are seriously unhappy with their country's moral and ethical climate.

In a new nationwide poll, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they were "not satisfied" with the moral direction that America is traveling.

Martha Courtney, the mother of three grown children in Lexington, Ky., appeared to speak for many of the 909 people interviewed in The Christian Science Monitor/TIPP survey conducted March 8 to 12.

Ms. Courtney says that if the country "keeps going the way it has been," major trouble lies ahead. She's hoping President Bush, whom she calls "a very moral person," will "encourage our country to get morals."

The Monitor/TIPP survey found that with the Clinton pardon controversy reaching a peak in recent weeks, public concern over morality and ethics has increased. Last month in a similar Monitor/TIPP poll, 60 percent of those questioned said they were "not satisfied" with the nation's moral direction. In March, that rose to 64 percent.

The increases in dissatisfaction were particularly marked among Democrats (up nearly 8 percent in the past month to 65 percent), Westerners (up 9 percent to 63), and adults without children (up 8 percent to 66).

These groups, which had supported Bill Clinton's presidency, may have reacted to headlines about the furor over his last-minute White House pardons.

The Monitor/TIPP question on morality is one component in a series of polls on the national outlook that measure the mood of America. The national index, which mathematically combines the results of a series of questions, now has been taken in February and March.

An index reading above 50 is considered positive, or optimistic, while readings below 50 reflect public pessimism. There was no overall change in the national index in March when it stood at 56, or mildly optimistic.

There are six indicators in the index. The "morals and ethics" component dropped 5 percent in March. Another gauge that asks whether the country is moving the right direction fell by 3.3 percent.

Those two declines were offset by other elements that rose. Respondents said they thought the "quality of life" in the US was going up, as was the "US standing in the world."

The final two components - economic outlook and presidential leadership - were unchanged from February.

This month's poll also found that Mr. Bush's standing with the public remains about the same as in February - with 49 percent approving of his handling of the job, while 20 percent disapprove. But 29 percent said they were still reserving judgment.

Among blacks, only 21 percent approved of Bush's performance to date, while 29 percent disapproved and 48 percent said they were still undecided.

When respondents were asked to grade Bush on his performance in specific policy areas, they gave him marks similar to those he received in February.

His highest grades came in "strengthening the military" and "encouraging high moral standards," where the public in the newest survey gave him B's. Nearly as high was the B-minus for his education proposals.

He received a C-plus for "handling the economy," "cutting taxes," "handling foreign affairs," and "managing the federal budget." His lowest grades, C's, were in "Medicare reform" and "Social Security reform."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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