Is the moral example or the policy positions of a U.S. president more important?

The answer depends on which party is in power, a recent Gallup survey found.

Respondents were presented with the following question: “If you had to choose, would you rather have someone as president who does set a good moral example for the country, but whose political views you do not generally agree with, or does not set a good moral example for the country, but whose view you generally do agree with?”

Among Republican respondents, 60% said “agree with views” and 30% “set good moral example,” while a majority of Democratic respondents (75%) preferred a good moral example and 19% said “agree with views.”

The previous two times Gallup asked this question was during the Clinton administration, and responses differed significantly from today’s answers.

Republicans strongly preferred a moral leader in both 1994 (69%) and 1999 (75%), with only 23% and 17%, respectively, desiring a president who agreed with their views more than they set a good moral example.

Democratic responses in 1994 saw 54% preferring a good moral example and 37% a leader who agreed with their views.

By the time the poll was asked in February 1999, Clinton’s impeachment hearings had concluded, and Democrats’ views had reversed – 57% preferred someone who agreed with their views and 36% a president who set a good moral example.

“The party shifts observed in the morals versus issues trade-off question are consistent with those seen in a 2018 Gallup survey asking Americans how important it is to them that the president provide moral leadership for the country,” Gallup noted.

“The percentage of Republicans who said it is very important for the president to provide moral leadership fell sharply in 2018 compared with the Clinton years. Meanwhile, more Democrats under Trump than under Clinton said it is very important.”

While independent respondents have always preferred leaders who offer a good moral example over agreement in policy positions – 53% said so in 1994 and 51% in 1999 – that preference has increased significantly in 2019, rising to 63% during the Trump administration.

The overall response of U.S. adults has remained largely stable in Gallup’s history of asking the question, moving from a 59% “set good moral example” and 32% “agree with views” response in 1994 to 52% and 40%, respectively, in 1999, to 58% and 35%, respectively, in 2019.

The full report is available here.

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