msnbc.com
updated 5/31/2011 6:28:32 PM ET 2011-05-31T22:28:32

Young and old Americans are sharply divided over whether pornography, gay relationships and premarital sex are morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.

The difference in attitudes between those aged 18 to 34 and those aged 55 and older was stark when it came to pornography, with 42 percent of the younger group polled by Gallup saying that it was morally acceptable, in contrast to 19 percent of those in the older group.

"This is the first time we've asked about pornography," said Jeff Jones, managing editor of the Gallup Poll, adding "that while they didn't think it was OK, there were other things they thought was worse."

In general, Americans in the "broadest" sense agreed on certain behaviors they believe are morally wrong, Gallup reported.

For example, at least eight in 10 U.S. adults interviewed in the survey said extramarital affairs, polygamy, cloning humans and suicide were wrong, while least six in 10 people surveyed said pornography and cloning animals were morally wrong, Jones said.

On the question of gay and lesbian relationships, 66 percent of younger Americans said they were moral — 13 percentage points higher than among the older cohort.

While there is no final tally on the number of lesbian, gay, or bisexual Americans, those surveyed believe the number was higher than nine years ago, with half of those polled saying at least 20 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.

When it comes to premarital sex, Americans aged 18 to 34 were even more enthusiastic, with 71 percent approving. But just 47 percent of older Americans approved of sex before marriage.

Highlights of Gallup Poll

Percentage of morally acceptable behavior, ranked by age and difference

18 to 34 years

35 to 54 years

55 and older

Difference, 18 to 34 minus 55 and older

%

%

%

pct. pts

Pornography

42

29

19

+23

Gay/Lesbian

66

56

47

+19

Premarital sex

71

58

53

+18

Polygamy

19

8

8

+11

Abortion

44

42

34

+10

Divorce

72

66

70

+2

Suicide

14

13

19

-5


SOURCE: Gallup

Overall, Americans saw divorce, the death penalty, gambling, embryonic stem cell research, and premarital sex as morally acceptable. Meanwhile, large majorities were against extramarital affairs, polygamy, cloning humans and suicide, the poll showed.

Gallup said abortion, physician-assisted suicide and out-of-wedlock births remained cultural flash points, with Americans more closely divided on these issues than others.

But the divide becomes sharper when sorted by political party: 55 percent of Democrats, for example, said abortion was acceptable, while only 18 percent of Republicans believed abortion was morally OK.

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