More than three-quarters of Americans believe that having sexual relations with someone other than their partner is always cheating, but they are less clear on issues such as sending sexually explicit text messages or maintaining an online dating profile while in a relationship, according to a new survey released today examining American attitudes about adultery. The study, commissioned by the Deseret News, designed by Y2 Analytics and conducted by YouGov, polled Americans about a range of scenarios they consider to be cheating on a partner from having a one-night stand to viewing online pornography to friending an ex on Facebook. The survey also examined attitudes about public figures specifically, whether a presidential candidates extramarital affair would influence the respondents decision to vote for that candidate and how couples behave toward each other.

The poll, which surveyed a representative sample of Americans, is part of the Deseret News fourth annual Ten Today project, which looks at the relevance of the Ten Commandments in modern life. Some of the findings of the poll, which includes 1,000 responses from Americans across religious, gender and age groups plus an oversample of 250 Mormons, include:

  • About three-quarters of Americans believe that having a one-night stand or a consistent sexual affair would count as cheating on a spouse or partner, while roughly 25 percent think it is sometimes or never cheating. Views are more varied for different acts involving the internet, such as sending sexually explicit text messages (51 percent say this is always cheating), maintaining an online dating profile while in a relationship (63 percent) or following an ex on social media (16 percent).
  • Millennials have stricter views than their elders when it comes to some forms of online cheating. For example, 94 percent of Millennials think having a one night stand is cheating on your partner, while 78 percent of the Silent Generation thinks so.
  • Across the board, women are more likely than men to classify each of the eleven survey items as cheating. For instance, 70 percent of females think actively maintaining an online dating profile while in a relationship is cheating vs. 55 percent of males.
  • Religious Americans are more likely to consider actions such as going to a strip club or viewing pornography without your partner to be cheating.
  • Evangelical Christians and especially Mormons consistently take a stricter view than any other religious group as to what constitutes cheating, especially when it comes to watching pornography or going to a strip club without a partner.
  • Over the past year, Republicans have become much more accepting of affairs among presidential candidates, and Democrats much less so. This is likely due to partisan associations with Republican President Donald Trump.
  • One of the most dramatic shifts of opinion on this question has been among white Evangelical Protestants. In January 2016, 56 percent said they would be less likely to support a candidate who had an extramarital affair. Today that number is 45 percent.
  • Younger couples are the most likely to have sex on a regular basis, but a majority of couples of all ages consistently go out of their way to do small acts of kindness for one another, such as making coffee or putting gas in the car.

Interactive graphic: What counts as cheating?

The results of this survey reveal areas of uncertainty and different definitions of what constitutes cheating in the digital age. It shows how the internet is adding a layer of complexity to the way we think about relationships, said Allison Pond, Senior Editor, In-depth and Special Projects, Deseret News, and a former Pew Research Center staffer. We hope this study will add insight into how we think about commitment in our own relationships and when it comes to public figures.

To see more results from the poll, download the PDF. The Deseret News will also be releasing a content series exploring the studys implications in depth. The series includes:

A package of three in-depth stories:

Last years Ten Today poll explored Americans practice of and attitudes toward the Sabbath. This years survey was created to contribute new research and conversations about relationships in the digital age, as well as to examine our attitudes toward public figures who have engaged in affairs.

The poll was designed by Doug Wilks, Editor of the Deseret News; Allison Pond, Senior Editor, In-Depth and Special Projects and a former Pew Research Center staffer; and Scott Riding and Quin Monson of Y2 Analytics, a research consultancy.


YouGov interviewed 1,832 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 1,000 nationally representative interviews plus an additional 250 self-identified Mormons to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race, education, party identification, ideology, and political interest. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the full 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) sample with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements (using the person weights on the public use file). Data on voter registration status and turnout were matched to this frame using the November 2010 Current Population Survey.

Data on party identification were then matched to this frame from the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey. The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education, and ideology. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles. The margin of error is +-3.1.