Even casual observers of contemporary American politics have detected rising levels of acrimony. Political rhetoric on television and radio programs seems especially shrill, and the tumult surrounding the health care reform bill has set aback even the most seasoned observers. But what about average citizens? Do they notice a decline in civility and, if so, are they worried? Should politicians even try to be polite and respectful? If there is a problem, who and what is to blame? Can anything be done about it? Do average citizens support compromise and are they willing to make sacrifices for the long-term good of the nation?
This April 2010 study, one of the first of its kind, is intended to move beyond anecdotal evidence and punditry to get at the heart of public perceptions regarding the tone of contemporary politics. Our survey of 1,000 randomly selected Americans is designed to gauge attitudes and perceptions on civility in politics.
Our findings suggest near universal recognition of the problem and a growing concern about the implications of an uncivil body politic. Further, the findings cast blame at a number of institutions, but also give reasons for optimism. Here are a few specific results of the survey:
- A whopping 95 percent of Americans believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy.
- 87 percent suggest it is possible for people to disagree about politics respectfully.
- Nearly 50 percent of Americans believe there has been a decline in the tone of politics since Barack Obama became President; 39 percent say it has remained the same; and 10 percent suggest there has been an improvement.
- Citizens paying close attention to politics are four times as likely to say the tone of politics has gotten worse than those who pay only modest attention to the news.
- Radio listeners are much more likely to perceive a decline in civility than are newspaper readers.
- Blame for the decline in civility is spread widely, but political parties and the media are seen as the worst culprits.
- Liberals are twice as likely to promote compromise solutions, than are conservatives.
- Americans want compromise on a range of policy issues. For example, some two-thirds of Americans support a compromise on immigration reform.
- Several findings suggest GOP candidates may do well in the 2010 midterm elections, but many independent voters appear up-for-grabs.
- An overwhelming number of conservatives who intend to vote in the 2010 primary elections expect their elected officials to stand firm, rather than compromise on tough policy questions.
- Women define civility differently than men, and are more likely to label recent public political behaviors as uncivil.
- 40 percent of Americans believe the least civil politicians should suffer a “trip to the woodshed,” 32 percent said they should take a manners class with Emily Post, and 16 percent said they should retake kindergarten.