Very Large Majorities Believe Political Discourse Is Angry, Bad Tempered and Worse Now Than In The Past

Most people also believe that how politicians behave influences how citizens treat each other

Mar 14, 2011, 06:04 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, March 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A new Harris Poll addresses the issue of incivility in politics and public life. It finds that an overwhelming 87% majority of the public believes that political discussions today are angry and bad tempered, and that a 67% majority believes that today's political climate is more angry and bad tempered than it used to be.

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These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 3,171 adults surveyed online between February 14 and 21, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

The issue of incivility in political discourse has been widely covered in the media.  The political rhetoric used by some political leaders, union leaders and Tea Party supporters has been criticized. The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the loss of six lives in Tucson was blamed by some, including the local police chief, on the inflammatory language used in recent political debate. This Harris Poll measured public attitudes on this issue and finds that:

  • When given four possible responses, most people say that political discussion today is "much too angry and bad tempered" (44%) or "somewhat angry and bad tempered" (43%).   Democrats (48%) and Independents (50%) are more likely than Republicans (34%) to say "much too angry".  Matures, people aged 65 and over (53%)  and Baby Boomers (52%) are more likely than Gen Xers (44%) and Echo Boomers (33%) to think that political discourse is "much too angry and bad tempered" today;
  • Two thirds (67%) of adults believe that the political climate today is more bad tempered than in the past.  Only 6% think it is less bad tempered.  The older people are (and therefore the longer their memories) the more likely they are to believe this (76% of Matures compared to 56% of Echo Boomers) say it is more angry and bad tempered today;
  • Most people (72%) believe that "how American politicians treat one another influences how American citizens treat one another," with 33% thinking this happens "very much"; and,
  • Large majorities of all adults believe that in public discourse it is not appropriate for politicians, political commentators or others to use language relating to war or fighting (72%), "enemies" (80%), or suggesting physical harm to opponents (86%).

So What?

This Harris Poll leaves no doubt that the great majority of the American public dislikes the inflammatory rhetoric used by some politicians, commentators and others.  They would like their leaders to be more civil to each other.  They surely support the belief that "you should disagree without being disagreeable".  However that does not mean that heated attacks are ineffective. Indeed most people believe that ordinary citizens are influenced by how politicians treat one another. Surveys over the years have often shown that many people dislike political "attack ads," but that does not mean that they are not effective.

TABLE 1

THOUGHTS ABOUT POLITICAL DISCUSSIONS TODAY

"On another topic, do you think that
political discussions today are...?"

Base: All adults


Total

Political Party

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Angry and bad tempered (NET)

87

87

85

91

80

89

91

93

81

92

    Much too angry and

    bad tempered

44

34

48

50

33

44

52

53

43

45

    Somewhat angry

    and bad tempered

43

53

37

41

47

44

39

40

38

47

Not angry and bad tempered (NET)

13

13

15

9

20

11

9

7

19

8

    Not very angry and  

    bad tempered

10

9

13

7

16

7

7

5

15

6

    Not at all angry and  

    bad tempered

3

4

2

2

4

4

2

2

4

2

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.



TABLE 2

POLITICAL DISCUSSIONS TODAY COMPARED TO IN THE PAST

"Some people have described the current political climate as particularly angry and bad tempered.  Do you think that today's political climate is more angry and bad tempered than it was in the past, less angry and bad tempered than in the past, or the same as it always was?"

Base: All adults


Total

Political Party

Generation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo

Boomers

(18-34)

Gen X

(35-46)

Baby

Boomers

(47-65)

Matures

(66+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

More angry and bad tempered today

67

62

69

71

56

65

73

76

No change

20

28

14

20

22

22

18

19

Les angry and bad tempered today

6

5

10

3

11

5

3

2

Not at all sure

7

4

7

6

11

9

5

3

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.



TABLE 3

DO POLITICIANS' BEHAVIOR TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER INFLUENCE CITIZENS' BEHAVIOR TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER

"To what extent do you think that how American politicians treat one another influences how American citizens treat one another?"

Base: All adults


Total

Political Party

Education

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

H.S. or

less

Some

college

College

grad

Post

grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Very much/Somewhat (NET)

72

66

80

71

69

73

75

74

    Very much

33

27

42

31

31

32

34

38

    Somewhat

39

39

38

40

38

40

42

36

Not very much/Not at all (NET)

22

28

15

23

21

22

21

24

    Not very much

15

19

11

17

14

15

15

19

    Not at all

7

9

4

6

7

7

6

6

Not at all sure

7

6

5

6

10

5

4

2

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.



TABLE 4

APPROPRIATENESS OF LANGUAGE AND IMAGERY IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE

"Some politicians, political commentators and citizens use various types of language and imagery to display their opinions of other groups' policies, members and views.  To what extent do you think the following are appropriate for use in public discourse?"

Base: All adults


Appropriate (NET)

Very appropriate

Somewhat appropriate

Not appropriate (NET)

Not that appropriate

Not at all appropriate

%

%

%

%

%

%

References to war or fighting when discussing political differences

28

9

19

72

30

41

Referencing opponents as "enemies"

20

8

12

80

23

57

References or allusions to causing physical harm to opponents

14

6

8

86

17

70

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.



TABLE 5

APPROPRIATENESS OF LANGUAGE AND IMAGERY IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE

"Some politicians, political commentators and citizens use various types of language and imagery to display their opinions of other groups' policies, members and views.  To what extent do you think the following are appropriate for use in public discourse?"

Summary of those saying "very appropriate" or "somewhat appropriate"

Base: All adults


Total

Political Party

Generation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo

Boomers

(18-34)

Gen X

(35-46)

Baby

Boomers

(47-65)

Matures

(66+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

References to war or fighting when discussing political differences

28

37

25

26

35

32

25

19

Referencing opponents as "enemies"

20

26

18

17

25

24

17

12

References or allusions to causing physical harm to opponents

14

15

15

10

21

15

8

7

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.



Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 14 to 21, 2011 among 3,171 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J39370

Q880, 885, 890, 895

The Harris Poll® #35, March 14, 2011

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Press Contact:

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Harris Interactive

212-539-9600

press@harrisinteractive.net



SOURCE Harris Interactive



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