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What are our priorities for a president? Pew poll shows they’re malleable

I guess most of us are hypocrites, of a sort, or at least partisan bias can overtake what should be more durable values than whichever party happens to control which office. As evidence, I offer this fresh poll result, from the esteemed Pew Research Center, compared to past samplings.

In 1994, when Bill Clinton was president but his inappropriate sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky hadn’t yet surfaced, Pew asked what more important in choosing a president, someone who held views you agreed with, or someone who set a good moral example for the country?

Democrats, by 54-37, said a good moral example was more important. In 1999, with Clinton’s moral example pretty much destroyed, Democrats said, by 57-36, it was more important to have a president with whose views they agreed. Funny how that works.

In that same 1999 poll, with the morally compromised Clinton in the White House, Republicans said by 75-17, that it was more important to have a president who set a good moral example, irrespective of his policy views and priorities.


You see where this is going, but I’ll just give you the numbers.

When Pew asked the question this year, Republicans had fled the “good moral example” camp and now said, by an impressive 75-19 percent, that it was more important to have a president who had good policy views rather than good morals.

Democrats, of course, also flipped from their Clintonian belief that policies were more important than morals. In 2019, with Trump setting a poor moral example, they said by 60-30 that the more important consideration was the moral example set by the president.

For what it’s worth, and not unexpectedly, political independents have been less likely to shift depending on which party held the White House, and in all three polls, a majority said that it was more important to have a president who set a good moral example. The numbers didn’t stay the same, but the majority in each case put morals first, which could be a problem for Mr. Trump in 2020, but who knows?

The full Pew write-up of the history of the morals-or-policy-views question is here.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 11/18/2019 - 01:21 pm.

    Given the depth of our divisions in the current year, I doubt there’s much that would disqualify a candidate we think will support our version of Democracy.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/18/2019 - 02:51 pm.

    When you’re in, you support the incumbent on the basis of their achievements.
    When you’re out, you highlight the failings of the incumbent.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/18/2019 - 04:11 pm.

    I don’t see anything particularly surprising in this study. My guy is getting things done, or at least trying to get done what I want him to do. The other guy is a blackguard of the highest (lowest?) order.

    Moral relativism is a given in our system, and talk of it as an evil is ignoring reality.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/19/2019 - 03:50 pm.

      ‘Moral relativism’ is just another way of saying the all human actions occur in some context, and the consequences of those actions cannot be evaluated without taking into account those contexts.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/19/2019 - 04:28 pm.

        I agree, but a certain pettifogger with a fancy suit and a Senate confirmation recently gave a speech inveighing against it.

        A conservative blog with rather more gravitas that I read on occasion (The Imaginative Conservative) lists a rejection of moral relativism as one of the main tenets of conservatism.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/19/2019 - 06:47 pm.

          One can reject the label while continuing the practice.
          No one who claims to be a Christian and admires Trump can believe in absolute moral standards.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/18/2019 - 04:32 pm.

    An active support of the primacy of democracy and its underpinning of its laws should be the minimum requirement for any elected office holder.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/19/2019 - 03:53 pm.

      From the Constitution:
      “Clause 8: Oath or affirmation
      Before he enters the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/19/2019 - 09:23 am.

    Who knows, indeed? Mr. Trump still has plenty of supporters, in the general public as well as in the Congress, despite what should be devastating testimony from an increasing number of credible witnesses in the current impeachment investigation to his lack of fitness for the presidency, whether that fitness is based on morality or policy.

    I confess I’m always a bit skeptical of claims by either candidates or supporters to some sort of moral high ground, even when a part of me is inclined to agree – to attain high office usually requires so many ethical compromises with whatever principles a candidate might have that ethical purity is highly unlikely. Trying to be all things to all people in order to garner votes is, I think, corrosive to both candidate and policy, but is nonetheless necessary if there’s to be a somewhat citizen-based government. It’s one of the significant drawbacks to a government that at least purports to be “bottom-up” rather than “top-down.”

    There ain’t no perfect system…

  6. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 11/19/2019 - 01:30 pm.

    Yes, I have been perplexed that Dems treat Bill Clinton like a liberal saint, despite Monica and his connection to Jeffery Epstein, his deregulation of banks and the media, and his connection to the growth of the industrial prison complex….

    Just as I am perplexed that repubs treat Trump like a conservative saint, despite his incessant name calling, his shady business practices, his treating women like objects and his willingness to lie whenever, however.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/19/2019 - 03:57 pm.

      As a Democrat (for at least the past 60 years) I have never regarded Bill Clinton as a saint.
      I do regard him as an effective chief executive, whose personal failings did not significantly affect his execution of his duties as President.
      I know of no serious accusations that he put personal profit ahead of the interests of the country as a whole.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 11/20/2019 - 11:14 am.

        He did indeed put his ambition before the country.

        His deregulating of the banks definitely too helped him and his family later. His deregulation of the media helps assure his record is never seriously questioned in corporate media. And this history of high paid talks and the flow of money from the super wealthy and nation states to the Clinton Foundation would be ripe for inquiry as much as Trump’s dealings, if this were an honest country.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/20/2019 - 01:41 pm.

          Clinton did not fund political campaigns from his foundation’s checkbook.
          He did not accept payments from foreign governments to businesses in his name while he was exercising the powers of the presidency.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/20/2019 - 01:44 pm.

          “He did indeed put his ambition before the country.”

          Okay, likely.

          “His deregulating of the banks definitely too helped him and his family later.”

          How?

          “His deregulation of the media helps assure his record is never seriously questioned in corporate media.”

          Media deregulation began in the 1980s. The Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987. All the Clinton treachery over the years has not prevented the rise of a right-wing media that is obsessed with them (if it weren’t for the Clintons, Rush Limbaugh would be back in San Diego doing the traffic reports).

          “And this history of high paid talks and the flow of money from the super wealthy and nation states to the Clinton Foundation would be ripe for inquiry as much as Trump’s dealings, if this were an honest country.”

          The Clinton Foundation has been the subject of much speculation, and no one has been able to make a credible charge of wrongdoing. Wealthy foreign donors have asked for favors in exchange for their donations, but those favors have been denied. As far as anyone can tell, the Foundation (unlike the Church of St. Bonespurs) is in compliance with all transparency laws.

          Unless, of course, you have some other real information? Not just “it must be,” or “it stands to reason.” Verkakte internet theories are not the fit subject for honest debate.

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