America has an incivility problem

February 04, 2016

America has an incivility problem

[I posted this on LinkedIn and the response has been enormous. Thought I would share here too.]

How did we get so mean, rude, coarse, and uncivil? How did we become so uncivilized?  It is no surprise to Americans that incivility and rudeness runs deep. In a poll conducted from January 7 to 14th by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tatewith KRC Research, nearly all Americans (95%) say we have a civility problem. Three-quarters (74%) say civility has declined over the past few years and two-thirds (67%) say it’s a major problem. Indeed, 7 out of 10 Americans (70%) said that incivility has reached crisis levels. We’ve been asking Americans about civility since 2010. I hate to say it but something’s rotten in the unified states of America. Incivility is getting worse. We’ve got to do better.

Here are some of the findings from the newly released research:

Who me? Yes you. Couldn’t be. Then who? Americans tend to blame everyone but themselves and those close to them. Uncivil behavior, they say, is a problem that other Americans have. Ninety-four percent say that they themselves always or usually act politely and respectfully. Similarly, 72% say the same for people they know and 56% for people in their community. But beyond this select circle, beyond family members and friends, incivility magically becomes a problem. Only 20% of Americans think that other Americans always or usually behave civilly. Incivility is everyone else’s problem.

Who’s really to blame? Americans point fingers at the usual whipping boys. Politicians, the Internet/social media and the news media are deemed the top three sources of uncivil behavior and discourse – each being blamed by more than half of Americans. On the other hand, only 7% blame schoolteachers, a comforting conclusion since they are the ones who are educating our young ones and preparing the way for our next generation of citizens.

Why does it matter anyway? Why should we care about respect, politeness and tolerance? By sizable majorities, Americans believe that uncivil behavior has serious negative consequences: 77% say incivility in government is preventing action on important issues; 74% say the U.S. is losing stature as a civil nation; 75% say incivility makes it difficult to discuss controversial issues; 63% say they have stopped paying attention to political conversations and debates as a result of incivility; and 58% say incivility is deterring people from entering public service. Less than 4 in 10 Americans, 37%, believe that incivility is to be expected and is a natural and necessary part of the political process.

But it’s not personal…right? Hell no. Six in 10 Americans say that incivility leads to “a lot” of cyberbullying (63%), intimidation and threats (61%) and violent behavior (60%).  Apparently, one Tyler Clementi suicide is one too many for most Americans.

Will civility affect your vote come November? Apparently so.  Nearly all likely voters in our sample – 93% – say a candidate’s tone or level of civility are   important factors in deciding how they will cast their votes in the 2016 presidential election.  More than one half of all likely voters (51%) say that they had not voted for a candidate in the past because of uncivil behavior.

What about the presidential race so far? Polite or bullfight? Here is something upon which both Democrats and Republicans actually agree. By a fairly wide margin, both consider the current 2016 race to be more uncivil than civil.

Perhaps incivility is primarily a male leadership problem. Women would be better? Not really. When we asked whether a female president would raise the level of civility in society, 60% of Americans say it would make no difference. True, nearly one quarter of the population (26%) say a female would raise the civility level, while 14 percent say it would not. Women thus get a slight edge here but it is nothing to crow about.

One thing is clear about incivility in America. We can do better.

 

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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