WASHINGTON, D.C. – A majority of Americans believe political, racial, and class divisions are getting worse, according to the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Civility Poll, the second component of the Battleground Poll. This includes three-quarters or more of men and women; urban, suburban, and rural voters; approximately 7-in-10 or more voters in every age cohort; white, black, and Latinx voters; and nearly two-thirds of voters of all partisan stripes.
These observations contribute to the Civility Poll’s additional finding that the average voter believes the U.S. is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war. On a 0-100 scale with 100 being “edge of a civil war,” the mean response is 67.23.
Consistent with the Civility Poll’s findings in April, this installment of the poll reveals significant contradictions within the electorate. Voters broadly agree with the premise that our political culture has become too uncivil and lacks a focus on solutions, and that common ground and compromise should be the goal for political leaders—while at the same time, equal numbers want leaders to “stand up to the other side” and stand up to “powerful special interests.”
These criticisms are not necessarily mutually exclusive, of course, but they do suggest a more complex and nuanced perspective on American politics, and one which goes beyond frustration over a decline in civility alone.
Voters also seem to disagree on the source of the incivility. Majorities of Republicans say Democratic political leaders, social media, large newspapers, CNN, and MSNBC are very responsible for our political division. Meanwhile, majorities of Democrats say Republican political leaders, social media, Fox News, wealthy special interests, and President Trump are very responsible. Independents single out just two actors as very responsible for divisive political discourse – social media and President Trump.
On other key questions, the poll found:
- Voters express concern and frustration about the uncivil and rude behavior of many politicians (88% agree, including 71% strongly agree). And this is a sentiment that is shared across the board, as well, though especially high among women voters, Democrats, and African American voters.
- Even more than rude and uncivil behavior, voters are tired of politicians in Washington who work with the powerful special interests instead of standing up to them (90% agree, including 73% strongly agree).
- More than eight in 10 voters believe “compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders” (87% agree, including 64% strongly agree) and that they are “tired of leaders compromising their values and ideals and want leaders who will stand up to the other side” (84% agree, including 63% strongly agree). This sentiment is more pronounced among Republicans and rural voters than it is among Democrats and independents, as well as suburban and urban voters.
- Independents are more likely to rank Fox News as responsible for political incivility than large newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times (38% very responsible) or CNN (37% very responsible) and MSNBC (31% very responsible). And independents are as—or more—likely to assign blame to Democratic political leaders responsible as they are to Republican political leaders (35% and 32% very responsible, respectively).
“Our Civility Poll finds that eighty percent of voters say that they both demand compromise from political leaders, but want political leaders who will stand up to the other side. That creates mixed messages for even the most skilled political leader trying to decide whether to be a fighter or a dealmaker,” said Mo Elleithee, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service.
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.
“While they tend to hold the simultaneous and seemingly contradictory points of view that compromise and common ground should be the main goals for political leaders and that those same leaders are too often sacrificing their constituents’ values and ideals in the name of compromise, the statement that garners the highest level of intense agreement from independents is that politicians in Washington are spending too much time working with the powerful special interests instead of standing up to them. As the narrative continues to shift before it settles ahead of the 2020 elections, it is this perspective—if it solidifies—that may spell the most trouble for the party in power,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster with Lake Research Partners.
“Restoring a higher level of civility to our politics will take a dedicated and courageous group of Republicans, Democrats, and members of the media to reject the easy tactics of uncivil rhetoric that paints opponents as enemies. In the multiple tributes after the passing of Senator McCain, many people noted that even in the final, heated days of the 2008 Presidential campaign, he refused to allow attendees at his rallies to characterize President Obama as scary or not American,” said Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group. “McCain lost that election but gained the respect of many across the political spectrum. There will never be another John McCain, but there certainly can be many politicians, pundits, operatives, and voters who can embrace his willingness to engage vigorously in debates over policy and philosophy while refusing to engage in the politics of personal destruction.
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 (GU Politics) 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.
The Civility Poll was added as a component of the Battleground in conjunction with the announcement of the GU Politics partnership in early 2019.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE:
The Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) connects and empowers students and the broader community to improve and reimagine politics and public service and reaffirm its promise. Founded as part of the McCourt School of Public Policy in the fall of 2015, GU Politics programming is open to the entire Georgetown 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 Washington, D.C., the heart of the policy world. The McCourt School’s 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.