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

    NEW YORK, N.Y. – March 14, 2011 – 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.

    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 yoy 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

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