Nearly All Likely Voters Say Candidates’ Civility Will Affect Their Vote; New Poll Finds 93% Say Behavior Will Matter
While incivility is capturing the attention of the public and the media in the presidential race of 2016, Americans say it may not capture their votes, according to the sixth installment of Civility in America, the ongoing poll by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research.
Eighty-three percent of likely voters report that they are paying close attention to national politics, and nearly all likely voters (93 percent) say a candidate’s tone or level of civility will be an important factor in deciding how they cast their votes in the 2016 presidential election, with more than half (52 percent) saying it will be a “very” important factor. Half of all likely voters (51 percent) say they had not voted for a candidate in the past because of uncivil behavior.
Likely voters rate Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the most uncivil candidates, at 79 percent, 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Broken down by party affiliation, Democrats likely to vote cite Trump (90 percent), Christie (47 percent) and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (44 percent) as the most uncivil. Republicans likely to vote cite Trump (67 percent), Clinton (64 percent) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (31 percent) as the most uncivil.
Nearly all Americans, 95 percent, say civility is a problem, with three-quarters (74 percent) saying civility has declined in the past few years and two-thirds (67 percent) saying it is a major problem today. In the online poll conducted among 1,005 adults 18 years and older from January 7 to 14, 70 percent also say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65 percent in 2014.
Asked to identify the groups contributing most to the lack of civility in society, both likely voters and the overall public cite politicians, the Internet/social media and the news media as the top three sources – each being named by more than half the respondents.
By sizable majorities, likely voters see negative consequences for uncivil behavior: 79 percent say incivility in government is preventing action on important issues; 77 percent say the U.S. is losing stature as a civil nation; 76 percent say incivility makes it difficult to discuss controversial issues; 64 percent say they have stopped paying attention to political conversations and debates; and 61 percent say incivility is deterring people from entering public service. Only a minority of voters, 38 percent, accept the notion that incivility is just part of the political process.
“The American people have a clear sense that rising incivility is harming our political process and the ability of our government to function well,” said Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate. “They see the nation paying a price for incivility and worry the cost could rise in the years ahead.”
Although civility is important to both Democrats and Republicans, Democrats who are likely to vote will weigh civility more heavily than Republicans likely to vote next November, with 61 percent saying it is “very” important, compared with 44 percent of Republicans.
According to the research, the level of civility in the campaign to date also appears to be increasing Americans’ desire to vote. About half (51 percent) of likely voters say the campaign is making them more likely to vote, compared with seven percent who say they are less likely. Thirty-nine percent of likely voters say the campaign hasn’t changed their plans to vote.
Likely voters describe the presidential race to date as more uncivil (58 percent) than civil (39 percent). Republicans likely to vote are aligned with this overall view (55 to 43 percent, respectively), while Democrats likely to vote see the race as somewhat more uncivil (60 to 37 percent).
“The American people are clearly watching not only what a candidate says, but how they say it,” said Weber Shandwick Chairman Jack Leslie. “Our research shows that those perceived to behave uncivilly are less likely to be elected President in 2016.”
Although attitudes among Democrats and Republicans are often aligned in the survey, there is a noticeable split in their reaction to the presidential debates. Majorities in both parties view the Republican debates as generally uncivil but nearly two-thirds of Democrats see their own party’s debate as civil, while nearly half of Republicans say the Democrats’ debates have been uncivil.
If uncivil behavior continues beyond the election, there is concern it would have negative consequences for a president’s ability to govern successfully. Roughly three-quarters of likely voters think uncivil behavior by an occupant of the White House would prevent the nation’s leader from achieving their policy goals with Congress (72 percent) or foreign leaders (77 percent). And 75 percent say such behavior would prevent a president from convincing the American people to follow his or her leadership.
Asked whether a female president would raise the level of civility in society, 58 percent of likely voters say it would make no difference. Twenty-nine percent say a female would raise the civility level; 14 percent say it would not.
Three-quarters (75 percent) of likely voters say the media has a responsibility to decrease incivility; two-thirds (65 percent) say nonstop media coverage makes incivility appear worse than it actually is; and 73 percent say politicians are uncivil in order to attract attention. Still, by more than a two-to-one margin, likely voters believe the media should report news about uncivil candidates rather than ignore them (70 vs. 30 percent, respectively).
“While the public appears to think that media coverage exaggerates the state of incivility in our society and doesn’t do enough to emphasize our better nature, it is clear the public feels they can make up their own minds and wants the news media to do its job and cover the candidates, regardless of how they are behaving,” Jenkins said.
Americans tend to absolve themselves from contributing to the coarsening of society, saying uncivil behavior is more prevalent the farther they get from home. Ninety-four percent say they always or usually act politely and respectfully; 72 percent say the same for people they know; 56 percent for people in their community. But only 20 percent of the respondents think the American people always or usually behave civilly.