BY CHARLES M. MADIGAN
CHICAGO - Cheating on your income taxes is almost as bad as cheating on your mate, and smoking pot isn't as bad as drinking to excess.
That's what a cross section of Americans reports in the Pew Research Center's latest "Social Trends" study, released Tuesday.
The survey sought to present a blunt test of what Americans believe is moral by measuring the responses to 10 questions. It recognizes that questions of morality are generally quite sophisticated and complicated.
"The survey did not measure intensity of feeling.... Judgments about right and wrong are by nature profound -- and in real life -- often nuanced and situational," the research center says in its report.
But on the surface, the study, which questioned 1,502 people in February, presents a fascinating set of contrasts on questions of moral behavior.
The Pew researchers sought to create "a barometer of modern morals" by ranking the 10 issues.
At the top of the list, 88 percent of the respondents said married people having an affair was wrong. Three percent said that would be morally acceptable and 7 percent said adultery is not a moral issue.
Second on the list, 79 percent said it was not moral to hold back in reporting income on your income tax forms. Just 5 percent said that was OK, 14 percent said it wasn't a moral issue and 1 percent said "it depends."
Number three on the morality scale was drinking too much alcohol. Sixty-one percent said drinking too much alcohol was not moral while 5 percent said that was OK, 31 percent said it wasn't a moral issue and 2 percent said "it depends."
Fourth on the list was having an abortion. Fifty-two percent of the respondents said that would be morally wrong. Twelve percent said that abortion was morally acceptable, 23 percent said it was not a moral issue and 11 percent said "it depends."
Smoking pot was number five. Exactly half of the respondents said smoking pot was morally wrong, which means more people oppose excessive drinking than oppose pot smoking. Only 10 percent said pot smoking was morally OK, while 35 percent said it wasn't a moral issue and 4 percent said "it depends."
Homosexual behavior was also viewed as not moral by 50 percent, with 12 percent saying that it was morally acceptable, 33 percent saying it wasn't a moral issue and 1 percent saying "it depends."
Telling a lie to spare someone's feelings came in seventh on the list. Sex between unmarried adults and the issue of gambling tied at number eight. Overeating was last on the list.
While the numbers are interesting, they may not say much about behavior.
For example, having an affair might be roundly condemned, but other surveys show at least 15 percent of those ever married have had sex outside of their marriage, Pew says.