Politics seen to breed incivility


US citizens believe that incivility is alive and well in the media, in pop culture, in government and in the music business, but none of these sectors are seen as being as bad as politics. Two-thirds say incivility was the order of the day during the recent congressional midterms, and expect it to get worse in the 2012 election cycle.

59% thought the 2008 presidential elections were dominated by incivility, compared to 34% who thought they were civil and 7% who weren’t sure, according to a survey by Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate and KRC Research. Those numbers are 66%, 22% and 12% for the 2010 cycle, and the expectations for 2012 are 74% uncivil, 22% civil and only 4% unsure.

Weber Shandwick’s Jack Leslie said, “While everyone has the right to engage in vigorous debate, this kind of rampant incivility undermines our political process.  It turns people off, creating at best apathy and at worst antipathy toward elected leaders.  Sooner or later, I hope we’ll reach a tipping point when people will demand more civil discourse.”

President Barack Obama, who seems to make a serious effort to stay above the fray, also seems to be getting that message across to the American people, completely bucking the overall trend. 68% find him to maintain a civil tone compared to only 28% who detect incivility in his demeanor.

Powell Tate’s Pam Jenkins noted, “Our survey found that Americans believe that political campaigns are becoming more uncivil. The media and political party leaders are seen as most to blame for fanning the flames of incivility. Americans clearly don’t want a reality show food fight when it comes to politics. They want civil discourse of the issues.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Anybody who has ever covered a congressional hearing knows that few venues in America can match the civility of federal legislators when they are going about their business on Capitol Hill. This goes for both houses but is particularly true in the Senate. The campaign trail is where politics get ugly – we would be very happy if the next campaign cycle is marked by thoughtful messages that examine the issues and explain where the candidate stands on them. However, we have zero expectation of this actually happening.