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New Weber report finds erosion of political civility harming democracy

by | Mar 7, 2018 | Public Relations

Despite a daily barrage of partisan conflict, Americans from both political parties are generally united in the belief that uncivil behavior is rampant—and having profound and negative effects on our democracy, according to new research.

The latest installment of Civility in America by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate conducted with KRC Research found large majorities of the public agreeing that incivility is a major societal problem that is getting worse, promoting political gridlock, causing people to disengage from politics and leading to intolerance of free speech.

“We often hear politicians say that what unites us is greater than what divides us,” said Pam Jenkins, president of Weber Shandwick Global Public Affairs, in a news release. “That’s certainly true when it comes to civility and it’s time that in addition to recognizing the harm our impolitic politics is doing to our government and nation, that we take action to solve the problem.”

Ninety-three percent of the public agrees that the nation has a civility problem

Democrats (69 percent) and Republicans (73 percent) acknowledge that it’s a “major” problem. Nearly three quarters of the public—and equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans—agree the problem has gotten worse in recent years. And members of each party are more likely to think civility will get worse than better in the years ahead, Democrats by 53 percent-22 percent and Republicans by 43 percent-28 percent.

The public is all but unanimous in citing the importance of civility to democracy, with 96 percent of Democrats and 95 percent of Republicans agreeing.

While the public does not single out politicians as the sole cause of incivility in society, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans believe that uncivil politicians encourage incivility and members of both parties generally share the belief that incivility is having, or will have, negative consequences for our country:

  • 75 percent of the public says incivility is leading to political gridlock
  • 60 percent say incivility has led them to stop paying attention to political debates or conversations
  • 59 percent say incivility is deterring people from entering public service

New Weber report finds erosion of political civility harming democracy

While 83 percent of the public say incivility leads to intolerance of free speech, Democrat and Republican respondents diverged somewhat on the intensity of the impact, with 60 percent of Democrats saying incivility has a “lot” of impact and 29 percent saying “some.” Republican opinion was 49 percent-35 percent, respectively.

Similarly, while 79 percent of all respondents said incivility is leading to less political engagement, 53 percent of Democrats saw a “lot” less compared with 32 percent who saw “some.” Only 34 percent of Republicans saw a “lot” less engagement, compared with 44 percent who saw “some.”

When asked about the importance of civility in the White House, large majorities said it’s important for a president to act in a civil manner and also believe President Trump would be a more effective leader if he were more civil:

  • 93 percent of the public believes it is important for the President of the United States to be civil
    • 86 percent of Democrats said it’s “very” important for a president to be civil; 9 percent said it is “somewhat” important
    • 68 percent of Republicans said it is “very” important; 26 percent said “somewhat”
  • 73 percent said a more civil President Trump would be a more effective president
    • 40 percent of Republicans said he would be a “lot” more effective; 31 percent said a “little” more effective
    • 50 percent of Democrats said a “lot”; 30 percent said a “little”

New Weber report finds erosion of political civility harming democracy

“Given the deep divisions that run through our politics these days, no one would expect unanimous views from Republicans and Democrats,” said Weber Shandwick’s chief communications strategist Lance Morgan, in the release. “But the similarities far outweigh the differences, a clear sign that people are unhappy with our political discourse and see dangers ahead if we don’t alter course.”

One area in which the poll found a vast disagreement between the two parties involved President Trump’s personal civility. Overall, 59 percent of the public found Mr. Trump uncivil, while 36 percent called him civil. Democrats and Independents found Mr. Trump uncivil by margins of 84 percent-14 percent and 57 percent-27 percent, respectively. Republicans, however, found the president civil by 64 percent-32 percent. There is a recent precedent for wildly divergent figures: In the 2014 Civility in America poll, Democrats declared President Obama civil by a margin of 81 percent-14 percent. Republicans said he was uncivil by a margin of 60 percent-36 percent.

These findings from Weber Shandwick’s 8th installment of Civility in America were presented on March 1 at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) event, Reimagining Disruption: Emerging Opportunities to Reboot our Public Discourse.

A full report on Civility in America in 2018 will be issued in the coming months.

Annually since 2010, Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, have released Civility in America: A Nationwide Survey. KRC Research conducted this eighth wave of the Civility in America survey online from January 2, 2018 to January 17, 2018, among a sample of 1,481 U.S. adults 18 years and older, drawn from a national consumer panel. The survey was conducted in both English and Spanish, as determined by the respondent’s preference. KRC established demographic quotas and weighted data based on U.S. Census data (age, gender, education, income, race/ethnicity, region).

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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