Contacts: Kirsten Kukowski
NEW SURVEY: Overwhelming Number of Americans Frustrated by Incivility in Politics, But Conflicted on Desire for “Compromise and Common Ground”
Voters Blame Special Interests, Social Media, & President Trump
for Current Tone in Politics
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Deep frustration with incivility in politics transcends political party, location, and demographics, with ninety percent (90%) of voters reporting they are concerned about the “uncivil and rude behavior of politicians,” according to the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Civility Poll, the second component of the Battleground Poll.
The poll also revealed contradictions within the electorate. Eighty-five percent (85%) of voters polled believe “compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders” (including 80% of Republicans, 87% of Independents, and 90% of Democrats). And yet seventy-nine percent (79%) of voters say they are tired of leaders compromising their values, and want them to stand up to the other side (including 85% of Republicans, 69% of Independents and 78% of Democrats).
On other key questions, the poll found:
- Eighty-three percent (83%) of voters believe that behavior that used to be seen as unacceptable is now accepted as normal behavior.
- Voter pessimism on our political discourse is high. When asked to rank the level of political division in our country (with “0” meaning no political division in the country, and “100” meaning political division on the edge of civil war), the mean response was 70.8 and the most common response was 75.
- Voters hold special interests (81%), social media (81%), and President Trump (78%) responsible for the lack of civility in our politics.
- Partisan voters are willing to assign significant blame to their own leaders and preferred media outlets: Majorities of Republicans think GOP political leaders (62%), Fox News (53%), and President Trump (54%) are at least somewhat responsible for increased incivility; while a majority of Democrats assign some responsibility to Democratic political leaders (58%) and CNN (50%).
- Millennial voters (57%) are more likely to blame social media than voters over the age of 65 (43%).
- Men and women largely agree on the growing incivility in our politics (men 60% “strongly” agree, women 63% “strongly” agree) but women are more likely to hold President Trump (women 59%, men 48%) and the GOP (women 43%, men 33%) responsible, while men are more likely to blame Democrats (men 43%, women 30%).
“While voters consistently complain about the lack of civility in our politics, in reality they appear to be far more conflicted,” said Mo Elleithee, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. “They overwhelmingly say they value leaders who seek common ground and compromise, but at the same time say they are tired of leaders compromising their values and want them to stand up to the other side. It’s clear that voters bear some responsibility for this tension, and that voters are going to have to play a role in sorting it out.”
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Civility Poll is the second component of the Battleground Poll, believed to be one of the first national polls of registered voters gauging opinion on the state of civility in our national political conversation. The results give a sense of voter sentiment on the state of our discourse; how bad voters believe it to be; who they blame for a sense of incivility; and whether civility and compromise are priorities for them.
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll is a national bipartisan survey measuring political opinion and civility among registered voters in the United States. A reliable tool for measuring voter sentiment and opinion, the poll has been conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners since 1991, with each offering their own unique analysis of the data. This is the first time it has been housed at the Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
“When it comes to the perceived cause for the decay of political decorum, over three-quarters of voters point to President Trump directly –fully 78% say the President is either “very” or “somewhat” responsible for the increase in bad behavior in American politics (54% and 24%, respectively), said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster with Lake Research Partners. “And while Republicans are hesitant to assign much responsibility to the President (just 16% say he is “very” responsible), a solid majority of independents assign him direct blame: 56% believe he is “very” responsible, with another 24% saying he is at least “somewhat” responsible.”
“That said, the President is certainly not the only guilty party in voters’ minds. In fact, slightly more voters blame social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (81% “very”/”somewhat” responsible), including majorities of Democrats (80% “very”/”somewhat” responsible), independents (73% “very”/”somewhat” responsible), and Republicans (88% “very”/”somewhat” responsible). The feeling that politicians are more concerned with helping special interests than their constituents also transcends partisanship, with near consensus among Democrats (91%), independents (87%), and Republicans (87%). Candidates who are able to attain an authentic identity—and achieve separation from their opponents—on this issue stand to reap significant political rewards.”
“Voters are frustrated by division, nostalgic for less crass times, and eager to see their leaders seek common ground. However, they also want their leaders to stand up to the other side and stand up to powerful special interests. Another perspective on “standing up to the other side” is partisan grandstanding. In addition, another perspective on “powerful special interests” is thoughtful and concerned voters who have banded together to pursue a shared policy goal,” said Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group.
“This data presents a true tightrope for politicians. Too often, the expedient and confidence building solution in campaigns and in policy debates is harshly attacking political opponents. This will not change until voters and political leaders demand better. It will start with political parties policing their own. When the reward for attacking opponents is eliminated, politicians will change their tactics. Successful politicians quickly adapt to the tactics that give them the greatest opportunities for success.”
See the questionnaire, charts, tables, and analysis here.
Academics, researchers, and journalists can also access the full data set to assist in their own research and analyses. [Note: Any use of this data and material must credit the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Civility Poll.]
ABOUT THE GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE BATTLEGROUND POLL:
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll is a national bipartisan survey measuring political opinion and civility among registered voters in the United States. Produced by Republican strategist Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic strategist Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, this polling series offers unique polling analysis and insights from two top pollsters from different sides of the aisle.
Initiated in June 1991, and housed at GU Politics since April 2019, the Battleground Polls have gained widespread media recognition as reliable bellwethers of national opinion and voters’ intentions. The Battleground data projected the outcome of the 1992, 1996, and 2004 presidential race more precisely than any other similar effort in the country, including those of the major TV networks and national newspapers. In addition, Battleground Polls have consistently been major predictors of what is going to happen in approaching Congressional elections.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE:
The Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) connects and empowers students and the community in an effort to improve and reimagine politics and public service and reaffirm its promise. Founded as part of Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy in the fall of 2015, GU Politics programming is open to the entire community.
ABOUT THE MCCOURT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY:
The Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy is a top-ranked public policy school located in the center of the policy world in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to teach our students to design, analyze, and implement smart policies and put them into practice in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, in the U.S. and around the world.