McCourtney Institute releases Mood of the Nation Poll

November 30, 2017

The McCourtney Institute's Mood of the Nation Poll helps to shed light on public opinion surrounding some of America's most pressing national issues.

Should business owners be required to serve same-sex couples? As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear an appeal from a Colorado baker with religious objections to same-sex marriage who lost a discrimination case for refusing to create a cake to celebrate such a union, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Mood of the Nation Poll captured the public’s feelings on this issue.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, a research center located in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, created the poll in June 2016 to produce real insights into how citizens truly feel about American politics and democracy.

Under the direction of Eric Plutzer, professor of political science and an affiliate faculty member in the McCourtney Institute, each Mood of the Nation Poll reflects answers provided by a scientifically selected, representative sample of 1,000 adults. Fieldwork is conducted in partnership with YouGov, an online polling organization.

Whereas traditional polls force citizens to give set responses to set questions in set categories – even on issues in which they are uninformed and uninterested – the Mood of the Nation Poll gives citizens a series of open-ended questions that they can answer in their own words. By being able to express what is on their minds and share what is important to them without reservation, respondents can provide unique and more in-depth observations on contemporary American politics.

A poll conducted in February, for example, indicated most voters were satisfied with the choice they made in the 2016 presidential elections, but 12 percent would vote differently if they could. A poll conducted in August indicated that shorter terms for justices might improve the Supreme Court.

Another poll conducted Aug. 21-25 sought to catch the “mood of the nation” on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case about to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips lost a discrimination suit after declining to make a wedding cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012 because of his religious views against same-sex marriage. Phillips believes his decision is protected under the First Amendment, while Mullins and Craig say it violates the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

Poll respondents were asked to address issues about whether a business has the right to deny services to interested customers.

“If they want to turn away business that is their right,” said a Republican from New York. “I think it's stupid, but it should be up to them.”

Others considered the larger role that a business plays in a community. “If small business owners want to be a part of a community, they must be willing to provide their services to any member of that community, it can't be a one-way exchange,” said a Democrat from Washington.

Overall, 48 percent of the poll’s 1,000 respondents feel that small business owners should be required to provide services to same-sex couples, while 52 percent believe that small businesses should be allowed to refuse services to those couples if serving them violates their religious beliefs.

“The results of the poll show a nation almost evenly divided on this question,” said Michael Nelson, assistant professor of political science at Penn State, who helped conduct the poll. “As in many issues dividing the country, the key factors dividing Americans’ views on this controversy are partisanship and religion.”

Among Democrats, 73 percent of respondents said that business owners must provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples compared to 24 percent of Republicans.

In terms of religion, Catholics, mainline Protestants and black Protestants were fairly evenly split on the topic, while approximately eighty percent of those identifying as conservative Protestants felt that business owners should be able to refuse services to same-sex couples if there is a conflict with religious beliefs.

“No one should be forced to participate in something that violates their religious beliefs,” said a Democrat from Ohio.

The Supreme Court will tackle many of these issues when oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission beginning Dec. 5. “Like the participants in our Mood of the Nation Poll, the justices will have to weigh the relative importance of individual freedoms, the rights of all Americans to be treated equally, and how to reach a solution when core American values appear to be in conflict,” Nelson said.

A full report analyzing the Mood of the Nation Poll on the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case can be found at  Results of previous Mood of the Nation Polls conducted by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy can be found at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 01, 2017