Given a choice, exactly half the respondents to the second Lifescapes online poll voted for the president and half for the former vice president.
Family values are this electionseason's political football. But F.V. means different things to different people. Some 54% of respondents think it's "appropriate" for a financially stable, single woman in her 30s who has no committed partner to have a baby solo. Almost half (47%) condone "a gay couple in a committed relationship" adopting a child. At the same time, Lifescapers consider computer sex to be cheating (52% regard it as marital infidelity) and 47% believe mothers of young children should stay at home.
What if home is the White House? The female occupants may have been first ladies but that doesn't necessarily mean they were first moms. All of the president's wives in the past three decades have borne children-but Lifescapers feel they weren't top priority with Nancy Reagan. Only 2% ranked her best mom-could it be her daughter's kiss-and-tell book or that she gave her grandson as a birthday gift the teddy bear he'd left behind at the White House-compared with 39% endorsing Jackie Kennedy and 32% Barbara Bush. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the choice of 11%, edged out Rosalyn Carter (10%) and Pat Nixon (6%).
Indeed, two-thirds considered Nancy Reagan the worst mom among the six first ladies included. Asked another way, 16% consider the current first lady to be mommy undearest-while 8% say it was Jackie O. and 9%, Pat Nixon. No one accused Barbara Bush of being a bad mom and only 1% think Rosalyn Carter was the worst.
Americans have equally strong views about the mothering skills of entertainers. Whitney Houston may be a hit on the pop charts but she's a real flop on the mom's. Only 4% picked her as best mom and 32% as worst. Joan Rivers fared almost as poorly: 4% think she's the best mom and 24% the worst.
Jane Pauley edged out Kathie Lee Gifford: while 26% ranked the talk show host as best mom compared with 24% for the news magazine anchor, 17% think Kathie Lee is plain awful as a mom whereas just 3% feel that way about Jane.
Meryl Streep and Maria Shriver were each picked by 15% as best mom, but 6% disapprove of Meryl Streep's mothering compared with 3% for Maria Shriver's. Susan Sarandon's unwed status hasn't much affected how she's regarded. Seven percent think she's the best mom; 6% think she's bottom.
Ninety-one percent of respondents say family life TV style bears little resemblance to their non-TV lives. And 55% blame advertisers for making people who aren't part of a touchy-feely supportive family feel left out. Some 59% believe more products are targeted at families than singles.
But what's good or bad? Some 47% consider the TV character Roseanne to be a better mom than Murphy Brown. Some might find it equally eyepopping that 53% rate Murphy the better mom.
As for the TV show that best depicts family values, 28% identified "Mad About You," and 15% "Roseanne." (Some 2% picked the former show as depicting values they oppose vs. 22% for the latter.) Two percent say "Step by Step" best reflects their values, while 4% opt for "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and 6% each for "Christy," "The Simpsons" and "Murphy Brown." Nine percent find their values most in tune with "Family Matters." Some 33% say the Simpsons represent values antithetical to them while 6% say the same about Murphy Brown.
As for presidential fathers, Jimmy Carter won by a landslide: some 42% rank him top dad andonly 6% put him at the bottom. One-fourth (26%) applaud George Bush's parenting; 4% condemn it. Amazingly, 13% of respondents feel JFK was the best father, and 13% that he was the worst. Bill Clinton got only 10% of the vote as dad of the year-more than twice the tally for Richard Nixon (4%). But 17% think both of their parenting styles consign them to the doghouse. As for Ronald Reagan, 5% picked him as best dad of the lot and 43% as the worst. (Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson were not included in the poll.)
John Gotti received an equally resounding thumbs down. Only 1% read godfather as good father while 36% think he's the worst of the bunch. The group includes other sore losers: No one confused Burt Reynolds or Donald Trump with Mr. Dad; 26.5% thought the oily action figure is the worst dad and 23% think the deal-maker and well-oiled publicity machine was. One per cent find financier and convicted felon Michael Milken top dad while 8% think he's bottom drawer. In this arena, Kevin Costner (before word of his divorce hit the headlines) and Mel Gibson shine, while Bill Cosby could float on angels' wings: 16% and 19%, respectively, think the actors are best dads. Costner got no negative votes and Gibson only 2%. Some 61% consider the Jell-O pitchman the best dad and only 2% the worst.
In politics, looks may be more important than values. Respondents said 56% of men are more apt to vote for a female candidate they consider attractive/sexy than a plain-Jane; a handsome grin will sway 57% of women.
What are people willing to put up with on TV? A third (33%) feel it's OK for an 8 p.m. program to show a couple in bed together-as long as there's no under-the-blanket movement. But only 4% find it acceptable for two clothed people to be outside the bedroom involved in heavy kissing or petting. One-fourth-26%-say no level of sexual activity on TV is acceptable at that hour. Almost as many-23%-say it's OK to discuss or refer to sex, as long as it isn't shown.
As for vocabulary, two-thirds find "hell" acceptable in an 8 p.m. show; just 6% think "bitch" is. Almost half (49%) will tolerate "damn," but just 16% will tolerate "God damn." Some 36% OK "that sucks"; 13% think "shit" is acceptable; and 11% won't balk at "screw you."
Some 83% have protested what they consider a breach in family values by switching the channel while 27% have complained to friends and acquaintances. Some 7% have gone further: They've written a letter of protest or called the producers, sponsors or network that ran the offending show. And while none confessed to supporting activist groups like the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, 5% say they've boycotted a sponsor. Two percent have asked their local station not to carry the show.
Family values seems such an amorphous term, but Lifescapers associate certain ingredients with it most often: Respect, trust, love, caring, kindness, support, sacrifice, rules and limits, and the golden live-and-let-live rule.
One Lifescaper defines it as "the traditional family following Judeo-Christian precepts," or "sharing beliefs that maintain respect for an individual, value truth, and establish and work toward goals and belief in a supreme being and in free will."
Others say "it can be headed by a single or gay parent as long as there's an atmosphere of love and support." Still other more cynical types consider the phrase "trite with overuse." One called it "an intrinsically meaningless bogus concept developed by the New Right to distinguish themselves from anyone outside their socioreligious parameters."
Americans may not agree on what family values mean-despite the Kodak Moments-but they have a good idea what icons symbolize it. Marketers take note: some 34% think the dining room table best serves up the suggestion of family values, while 28% opt to set a scene in the kitchen. (The problem, of course, is what the scene should be: no ideal family rings true for all of America.) Some 19% say holiday decorations telegraph the sentiment and 7% say religious symbols do. But recognizing modern day lifestyles, 5% point to the family van or station wagon and 2% to the TV set.
They also have a feel for what age it's all right to have sex: a median of 18.4 years. The median age they approve of a woman marrying is 21.2, while a man should wait until he's 23.4 years old to get hitched. It's OK for a woman to have her first child at 23.4 and for a man to become a father at 24.5.
But a woman shouldn't begin her midlife crisis until she's 41.2; a man should wait another 13 months. As for retirement, a woman should start contemplating it at 57.8 while a man can consider it at 59.9 years old.
And they have a good feel for what breaches family values. Disrespect, dishonesty, infidelity and divorce are the big four-despite the fact that 48% of respondents feel divorce "can often be a good thing for the children." One noted, "Divorce says I give up. I don't give a hoot about you or the kids and shows them that nothing's worth fighting for-that they should take the easy way out and that nothing can be counted on."
Others pointed an accusatory finger at selfishness; moralistic behavior; "zealots who stress sameness, compliance and conformity"; physical or verbal abuse; "failure to financially and emotionally support family members"; and the government for rewarding "people for having children who don't want the responsibility that comes with it." Some suggested that Menendez brothers, congressional hearings and Oliver North running for the Senate illustrate real breaches of family values.
But there are good signs, too. Almost a third-31% of respondents-think most men and most women never consider having an affair. And while 88% believe family values were more celebrated in 1955, family values are not at the low ebb that they were in 1985. More than half-58%-believe family values are more in evidence now than they were almost a decade ago.
Lifescapes is overnight, online marketing research and brainstorming conducted by Bernice Kanner and BKG America through American Dialogue and America Online. BKG has the sole market research franchise on America Online. Respondents to this Lifescapes poll, conducted October 24-25, were self-selected. Some 500 households were e-mailed; the response rate was approximately 60%. For each completed questionnaire, $1 was donated to charity.
Many of the respondents to this particular Lifescapes poll belong to Griffin Bacal's proprietary online panel, LiveWire.
For more information on Life-scapes, call or e-mail BKG President Marian Salzman at (212) 804-1171 or [email protected]