I was reading this debate on Politico about a recent uncivil email from Allen West to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, when I came across this survey on civility that I thought I'd share. Allegheny College commissioned Zogby to survey 1,000 representative individuals about civility. The sample included 38% conservatives versus 26% liberals and was generally fairly diverse, as one might expect from such a poll (but it's always good to check when looking at percentages). The findings are not surprising in terms of their direction, as most people intuitively know that civility is better than incivility, but I found the overwhelming percentages quite interesting.
A brief summary of findings:
• A large majority—95 percent—of Americans believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy.
• Fully 87 percent suggest it is possible for people to disagree about politics respectfully
• Women define civility differently than men, and are more likely to label recent public political behaviors as uncivil. Forty percent of Americans believe the least civil politicians should suffer a “trip to the woodshed,” 32 percent said they should take a manners class with Emily Post, and 16 percent said they should retake kindergarten.• 85 percent of Americans believe politicians should work to cultivate friendships with members of the other party.
• Women are more likely to be turned off by negative politics than are men.• Americans want compromise on a range of policy issues. For example, some two-thirds of Americans support a compromise on immigration reform.
There is too much in the report to spell out in a blog post, but most anyone who is visiting this post would likely enjoy reading the very well done report.
So back to the original issue of the letter from Allen West, which included a number of personal attacks in response to a policy difference that Schultz pointed out on the House floor. Liberals blame conservatives and conservatives blame liberals, as is noted both in the report and in the Politico debate, so me adding my liberal leaning voice to the condemnation of West's personal attacks would be rather cliche'd. While 89% of people agree that insults are uncivil, 77% also think that manipulating facts about an issue is uncivil, and whether you agree with him or not, maybe West thought that Schultz was being uncivil in that way. So rather than responding to West's incivility with an attack on West's actions, which would just contribute to the noise and which would probably be hard to do objectively, allow me to instead praise Utah Republican Governor Gary Herbert, who was one of the few people in the Politico forum who crossed party lines in saying that:
While they’re hardly a recent phenomenon, personal attacks are simply unworthy of the civil discourse which should be maintained in our great nation. Incivility amongst elected officials fuels the contempt and skepticism with which Americans increasingly view politics, and which has a consequent negative outcome on public policy.
After all, as I learned from Allegheny's poll, 85% of Americans believe there should be more cross-party friendships.
– Ravi Iyer