Nine in Ten U.S. Adults Feel Rivalries are Keeping Politicians from Addressing the Interests of Americans Like Them

New York , N.Y. – March 11, 2014 – Hot tempers and heated words have always been part of the U.S. political scene. In fact, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel in the early days of the United States. But how bad do Americans think it’s gotten? A new Harris Poll addresses the issue of incivility in politics and public life, and whether it’s seen as getting in the way of the actual work our political leaders are meant to be doing on our collective behalf. While politicians may not be dueling, findings indicate that roughly nine in ten U.S. adults (89%) believe that political discussions today are angry and bad tempered, and roughly seven in ten (69%) believe that today’s political climate is more angry and bad tempered than it was in the past.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014.

Angry – and getting angrier?

When given four possible responses, most Americans say that political discussion today is either much too angry and bad tempered (40%) or somewhat angry and bad tempered (48%).

  • Democrats and Independents (43% each) are more likely than Republicans (35%) to say much too angry.
  • Matures (ages 68+; 48%) and Baby Boomers (ages 49-67; 45%) are more likely than Gen Xers (ages 37-48; 37%) and Echo Boomers (ages 18-36; 34%) to think that political discourse is much too angry and bad tempered today.

Seven in ten U.S. adults (69%) believe that the political climate today is more bad tempered than in the past, while only 5% think it’s less angry and bad tempered today.

  • The older Americans get (and therefore the longer their memories), the more likely they are to believe political discourse is more angry and bad tempered today (87% Matures, 76% Baby Boomers, 66% Gen Xers, 57% Echo Boomers).

Seven in ten Americans (71%) also believe that how American politicians treat one another influences how American citizens treat one another, with 26% indicating very much believing this.

  • Liberals (79%) are more likely than Moderates (71%) to believe this, with Moderates in turn more likely than Conservatives (63%) to feel this is true.

Strong majorities of U.S. adults believe that in public discourse it’s inappropriate for politicians, political commentators or citizens to use language referring to war or fighting when discussing political differences (74%, with 40% specifying that it’s not at all appropriate), referencing opponents as enemies (83% and 54%, respectively), or making reference or allusion to causing physical harm to opponents (90% and 72%, respectively).

The blame game

Looking at recent partisan bickering in Washington, three in ten Americans (29%) say Republicans deserve the most blame, down a bit from 34% last October, in the wake of the government shutdown, while the percentage blaming Democrats most holds steady at 17%. But nearly half (47%, up from 42% in October) say both parties are equally deserving of blame.

  • Democrats are most likely to lay the most blame on Republicans (56%), while Republicans (51%) and Independents (55%) are most likely to lay the lion’s share of the blame on both parties equally.
  • Women are more likely than men to blame both parties equally (50% women, 43% men), while men are more likely to blame, well, anyone – as they are more likely than women both to say that Republicans (32% men, 26% women) and Democrats (19% and 15%, respectively) deserve the most blame.

What about us?

The rivalry between Democrats and Republicans (as well as the one between mainstream and Tea Party Republicans) has been widely credited in the media with grinding our government to a halt, with obstructionism trumping taking care of business. Americans appear to concur, with nine in ten (89%) agreeing – more than six in ten (62%) strongly so – that party rivalries are keeping politicians from addressing the interests of Americans like me.

Looking individually at the Republicans and Democrats, majorities also agree – albeit more strongly when talking about Republicans – that each party is more interested in beating the other than they are in what’s good for the country; 77% believe this is true of Republicans, while 64% say it holds true for Democrats.

 

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TABLE 1

THOUGHTS ABOUT POLITICAL DISCUSSIONS TODAY

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

Base: All adults

2011 Total

2014 Total

Political Party

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo Boomers (18-36)

Gen X (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Angry and bad tempered (NET)

87

89

90

90

87

85

88

90

97

87

90

Much too angry and bad tempered

44

40

35

43

43

34

37

45

48

40

40

Somewhat angry and bad tempered

43

48

55

47

45

51

50

45

49

47

49

Not angry and bad tempered (NET)

13

11

10

10

13

15

12

10

3

13

10

Not very angry and bad tempered

10

9

8

8

10

13

9

7

3

9

8

Not at all angry and bad tempered

3

3

2

3

3

2

4

4

 

3

2

Note 1: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Note 2: indicates a response rate of less than 0.5%

 

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

2011 Total

2014 Total

Political Party

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

More angry and bad tempered today

67

69

74

71

69

57

66

76

87

67

72

No change

20

20

16

20

22

27

21

18

9

22

18

Less angry and bad tempered today

6

5

6

4

4

7

5

3

1

6

4

Not at all sure

7

6

4

5

5

8

8

3

3

5

6

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

2011 Total

2014 Total

Political Philosophy

Generation

Gender

Cons.

Mod.

Lib.

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Very much/Somewhat (NET)

72

71

63

71

79

72

64

71

74

67

73

Very much

33

26

23

27

30

24

22

28

34

24

29

Somewhat

39

44

40

44

49

48

42

44

40

44

44

Not very much/Not at all (NET)

22

24

31

24

16

22

30

24

22

28

21

Not very much

15

18

21

20

12

17

23

17

17

21

16

Not at all

7

6

10

4

4

5

7

7

5

8

4

Not at all sure

7

5

6

4

5

6

5

5

4

4

6

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

 

TABLE 4a

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

26

5

22

74

34

40

Referencing opponents as enemies

17

4

13

83

29

54

References or allusions to causing physical harm to opponents

10

2

8

90

18

72

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


TABLE 4b

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 not at all appropriate

Base: All adults

2011 Total

2014 Total

Political Party

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

References or allusions to causing physical harm to opponents

70

72

73

72

73

62

72

76

83

69

75

Referencing opponents as enemies

57

54

52

55

55

43

53

57

74

48

60

References to war or fighting when discussing political differences

41

40

39

40

39

29

39

45

52

37

42

 

TABLE 5

PARTISAN BICKERING

Thinking about the recent partisan bickering in Washington, D.C., which party do you think deserves the most blame?

Base: All adults

Oct. 2013 Total

Feb. 2014 Total

Political Party

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Republicans

34

29

3

56

25

31

25

30

27

32

26

Democrats

17

17

40

4

14

10

16

20

26

19

15

Both equally

42

47

51

34

55

47

51

46

42

43

50

Not at all sure

7

8

6

6

6

12

8

4

5

6

9

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


TABLE 6a

AGREE/DISAGREE WITH STATEMENTS ABOUT POLITICAL VS. NATIONAL INTERESTS

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

Party rivalries are keeping politicians from addressing the interests of Americans like me.

89

62

27

11

7

4

I think Republicans are more interested in beating Democrats than they are in what’s good for the country.

77

45

32

23

14

9

I think Democrats are more interested in beating Republicans than they are in what’s good for the country.

64

34

30

36

23

13

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

 

TABLE 6b

AGREE WITH STATEMENTS ABOUT POLITICAL VS. NATIONAL INTERESTS

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Summary of those saying Agree (NET)

Base: All adults

 

2014 Total

Political Party

Generation

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X (35-46)

Baby Boomers (47-65)

Matures (66+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Party rivalries are keeping politicians from addressing the interests of Americans like me.

89

91

91

90

82

88

94

98

87

92

I think Republicans are more interested in beating Democrats than they are in what’s good for the country.

77

58

91

79

79

78

79

68

78

76

I think Democrats are more interested in beating Republicans than they are in what’s good for the country.

64

88

40

68

56

68

66

73

63

65

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,266 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, The Harris Poll 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 Poll 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 our 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 The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll #24, March 11, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager