Poll of the Day: Americans' Attitudes About Sin

By Molly Ball

Despite the recent controversy over contraception, Gallup finds Americans broadly approve of birth control -- but not porn, cloning, or infidelity.

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Americans have few moral qualms about birth control or gambling. They think wearing fur, the death penalty, and abortion are more morally acceptable with porn. And they think suicide, polygamy, and human cloning are more moral than cheating on your spouse.

Inspired by the recent political debate over insurance coverage for contraception, Gallup this month included birth control in its regular survey of Americans' moral beliefs. Rick Santorum notwithstanding, the poll found that Americans overwhelmingly believe contraception is moral: 89 percent said it was morally acceptable, the highest rating of any of the morally questionable behaviors tested. Even among Catholics, 82 percent approved of birth control. No wonder Democrats were convinced they had a winning issue in the contraception debate -- even though the debate was about larger issues of religious freedom and government compulsion, there simply aren't a lot of people who sympathize with moral objections to birth control.

But the really fascinating data in the poll was in the way it ranked Americans' attitude toward a variety of other potential sins.

Gambling and divorce, both frowned upon in old-time religion, are now broadly accepted, with less than a third of the public disapproving of either. But Americans' judgment of infidelity is harsh: 89 percent find the notion of married people cheating on their spouses morally unacceptable. (Tell that to Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, and all the other cheating pols.) That's more than disapprove of human cloning and polygamy (86 percent each) or suicide (80 percent).

Fur-wearing and stem-cell research are largely accepted (about 60 percent each), while slim majorities approve of gay sex and out-of-wedlock births (54 percent each). A majority, 51 percent, finds abortion morally unacceptable. (Not surprisingly, there are major partisan differences in the moral judgment of all of these.) And Americans are surprisingly disapproving when it comes to porn: Nearly two-thirds say it is morally wrong. Based on the contents of the Internet, that seems to be a qualm that's routinely and easily overcome.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/poll-of-the-day-americans-attitudes-about-sin/257550/