June 15, 2012
Politics Is Driving Incivility In America, Says New National Poll From Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate: Two-Thirds of Americans Expect Uncivil 2012 Election — And Three-Fourths Say Incivility Deters People from Entering Public Service
A rancorous political environment is primarily responsible for driving a "national civility disorder" and most Americans say politics is increasingly uncivil, complicating resolution of major issues and deterring qualified people from entering public service, according to a new public opinion poll. Reinforcing these perceptions, nearly seven in 10 Americans (67 percent) expect the upcoming November election process to be uncivil. Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate partnered with KRC Research to conduct its third annual poll on Civility in America: A Nationwide Survey and found that two-thirds (63 percent) of the American people believe incivility remains a "major problem." The survey also found that nearly three-quarters (71 percent) believe civility has declined in recent years and 55 percent expect the decline to continue with politicians, political campaigns and government being most responsible for the problem. Approximately eight in 10 Americans say political campaigns are uncivil and politics is becoming more uncivil. Substantial majorities think the tone of our public discourse is harming America's future; deterring qualified people from entering public service; and preventing Washington from getting things done. Sixty-nine percent believe last year's budget talks broke down because of uncivil behavior by the negotiators. "The increasingly uncivil tone of our public dialogue is hurting our ability to deal with issues and discouraging people from participating in the discussion and entering public life. We are suffering from a national civility disorder that is leading us down an unhelpful and unhealthy political path," said Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate, in a news release.
The tone and behavior of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during the presidential campaign will be an important factor in how Americans cast their votes in November. While the public generally views politicians and political campaigns as uncivil, both Obama and Romney are rated higher on civility than incivility. By a 59 to 33 percent margin, Americans consider President Obama more civil than uncivil; Governor Romney's corresponding figures are 48 to 39 percent.
Since the poll found that a candidate's behavior towards people they disagree with (84 percent) and level of civility (83 percent) rank behind only their positions on the issues (86 percent) as important factors in determining peoples' votes, the civility rankings would appear to provide President Obama with a distinct advantage in the 2012 presidential race.
But Bradley Honan, CEO of KRC Research, said there are two reasons to be cautious about such claims. "Governor Romney has just emerged from a bruising Republican primary season, which could have weighed his 'civility' rating down, and President Obama's 'incivility' rating has risen from 25 to 33 percent since 2011 and so the bruising presidential election ahead could negatively impact his margin," he said in the release.
Incivility is causing many Americans to tune out of the political process and media. Two-thirds say they are tuning out political advertising, politics in general (58 percent), government (55 percent) and election coverage (54 percent). The public is also disenchanted with the media, with 62 percent finding its general tone uncivil and 82 percent believing the media is more interested in controversy than facts.
Although the public deplores both the incivility and its consequences, the poll found a significant jump — from 33 percent in 2011 to 40 percent this year – in the percentage of Americans who are now prepared to believe that incivility is just a routine part of the political process. Jenkins pointed out that "the acceptance of incivility in politics is fast-becoming The New Normal."
While their attitudes toward incivility in politics remain decidedly negative, Americans' personal experiences with incivility trended in a more positive direction this year with one notable and important exception.
While only 17 percent of the public reported being untouched by incivility, fewer Americans this year reported personal experiences with incivility on the road (60 percent in 2012 vs. 72 percent in 2011); while shopping (49 vs. 65 percent); at work (34 vs. 43 percent); and in their neighborhoods (28 vs. 35 percent).
Only on the subject of online incivility and cyber-bullying was there a marked increase in uncivil behavior, with experiences doubling from 9 percent in 2011 to 18 percent this year. And, as in 2011, more than half of America's parents, 51 percent, reported that their children experienced incivility at school.
Most notably, it appeared that Americans decided not to take it anymore when confronted with uncivil behavior: 44 percent reported ending a friendship or other relationship; 39 percent said they defriended or blocked someone online; 23 percent said they quit their job; and 13 percent said they moved their residence because of uncivil behavior.
Click here for the executive summary and other Civility in America resources.