Moral values lag behind management skills and issue positions in voters’ assessment of U.S. presidents, according to a Gallup poll released on Aug. 9.

Respondents were asked to share which of three characteristics “is the most important … in rating how a president is handling his job” – managing government, issue positions or moral values.

Thirty-seven percent said managing government was most important, followed by issue positions (29 percent) and moral values (21 percent).

Moral values have ranked third in three of four Gallup surveys on this question – 18 percent in 1996 and 16 percent in 1998. Only in 2002 was a president’s moral values deemed more important than issue positions, by a narrow margin of 26 percent to 25 percent (within the margin of error).

This poll had not been conducted since 2002.

Among Republican respondents, 14 percent said moral values were most important, trailing issue positions (33 percent) and managing government (42 percent).

Twenty-four percent of both Democrats and independents felt moral values were most important.

Managing government was most important to both groups (35 percent of independents and 34 percent of Democrats), followed by issue positions (30 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats).

“Republicans’ current criteria for evaluating presidents differ from what they have been in the past. Most notably, the 14 percent who say moral values are most important in how they view a president is down sharply from the 36 percent who said this in 2002, when George W. Bush was president, and is significantly lower than the roughly 25 percent who did so under Bill Clinton in the 1990s,” Gallup noted.

Republicans are not alone in shifting views on moral values. Democratic respondents who said this quality was most important declined from 15 percent in 1996 to a low of 8 percent in 1998 (the year Bill Clinton’s impeachment was initiated), before rising again to 17 percent in 2002 and 24 percent in 2018.

Independent respondents affirming moral values as most important has been more stable, by comparison – declining slightly from 18 percent (1996) to 15 percent (1998) before rising to 23 percent (2002) and 25 percent (2018).

The full survey results are available here.

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