News Release | More Americans say financial misconduct by elected officials is a very serious moral problem than say sexual misconduct
Women more likely than men to say elected officials should resign over sexual misconduct
Washington, D.C. – A new study finds that significantly more Americans say financial misconduct by elected officials is a very serious moral problem than say sexual misconduct.
Although Americans that both financial and sexual misconduct of elected officials constitute very serious moral problems, the new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey also finds that significantly more Americans say that elected officials who commit financial offenses should resign than say those who commit sexual offenses should resign. The new survey was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service following former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s resignation announcement and released amidst a new Congressional Ethics Panel investigation of sexual harassment by Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida.
“The public more harshly judges financial misconduct than sexual misconduct, despite being divided about whether a public official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically in their public life, ” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “This pattern is generally true across the religious landscape, with the exception of white evangelical Protestants who have roughly equal negative moral judgments about both types of misconduct.”
The new survey, which asked Americans to judge the morality of a number of offenses independently of each other, also finds that significantly more Americans believe that lying about immoral sexual behavior is a very serious moral problem than say the behavior itself is a very serious moral problem. Nearly 8-in-10 (77%) say it is a very serious moral problem if an elected official lies to cover up an immoral sexual act.
“While men and women are about equally as likely to view financial misconduct as a very serious moral problem, women are more likely than men to say sexual misconduct is a very serious moral problem,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “For example, nearly two-thirds of women say public officials should step down for sexual misconduct such as having sex with a prostitute, compared to less than half of men.”
Among the Findings:
- More than three-quarters of Americans say the following types of financial misconduct are a “very” or “extremely” serious moral problem:
- when an elected official takes a bribe (91%)
- when an elected official does not report all of their income on their taxes (81%)
- Strong majorities of Americans say the following types of sexual misconduct are a “very” or “extremely” serious moral problem:
- when an elected official sends sexually explicit messages to someone who is not their spouse (67%)
- when an elected official lies to cover-up an immoral sexual act (77%)
- when an elected official has sex with a prostitute (66%)
- when a male elected official cheats on his wife (72%)
- when a female elected official cheats on her husband (69%)
- Majorities of Americans say elected officials should resign if they commit any of the above financial or sexual offenses, but stronger majorities say this about financial misconduct than sexual misconduct.
- There is no significant difference between men and women in their moral judgments about adultery committed by a female elected official. However, women are much more likely than men to say it is a very serious moral problem if a male elected official commits adultery (77% vs. 66% respectively).
- More than 6-in-10 (61%) Americans say that elected officials should be held to higher moral standards than people in other professions.
- Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans say the moral behavior of elected officials is about the same today as in the past, 28% say it is worse and only 6% say it is better.
*The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on RDD telephone interviews conducted between June 16, 2011 and June 19, 2011 by professional interviewers under the direction of Opinion Research Corporation. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,006 adults 18 years of age or older living in private households in the continental United States. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.