- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

As the source of media spectacle and late-night jokes, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has provided considerable distraction for the nation as his marital infidelity was made public.

Despite the intrigue, character still counts among Americans. The majority of Americans say he should resign, and they also disapprove of his adulterous behavior, according to new opinion polls.

A CNN-Opinion Research survey of 1,026 adults released Tuesday found that 54 percent of the respondents said Mr. Sanford should resign from office because of his brazen romantic affair with an Argentine woman, first revealed last week by a South Carolina newspaper - along with a spate of his e-mailed love letters to her.

Are political leaders required to show moral leadership as well? Yes, apparently.

About 50 percent also said that if a high-profile public official committed adultery, he or she lacked “the personal character and integrity to hold office.”

That attitude has become more pronounced in recent years.

For comparison, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in 1999 found that 21 percent of Americans said an adulterous politician lacked character.

The knowledge of such activities is also a matter of public trust. Of those polled in the CNN survey, 51 percent agreed it was “important for voters to know” about politicians who were unfaithful to their spouses.

Americans clearly condemn such activities, according to Gallup Poll.

“Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada - the latest elected officials to admit publicly to having extramarital affairs - are flying in the face of public opinion if they expect to find Americans condoning their dalliances,” said Frank Newport, director of the Gallup Poll.

According to the Gallup Values and Beliefs Survey, “married men and women having an affair” was ranked the most morally unacceptable activity on a laundry list of 16 no-nos, which included polygamy, human cloning, suicide and abortion.

The survey found that 92 percent of the respondents said an adulterous affair was morally wrong. Polygamy was in second place, cited by 91 percent, followed by human cloning (88 percent), suicide (80 percent) and abortion (56 percent).

However, Republicans slightly outranked Democrats in the disapproval derby. The poll found that 97 percent of Republican respondents said adultery was morally wrong, compared with 89 percent of Democrats.

The poll of 1,015 adults was conducted May 7-9.

Mr. Sanford did have one thing working for him - the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson shortly after the governor stood weeping before network cameras in full confessional mode.

He slipped from the No. 1 news topic to No. 3 - behind the political protests in Iran and Mr. Jackson’s sudden demise Thursday, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“In the sometimes ghoulish calculus of the press agent, Sanford may actually have been a little lucky. Before 48 hours were up, some of the media oxygen that might have been devoted to demanding his resignation would disappear,” noted the group’s news analysis released Tuesday.

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