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  • America’s Political Secret: Many voters don’t mind nasty campaigns
For Immediate Release
June 29, 2012

America’s Political Secret: Many voters don’t mind nasty campaigns

Key Info

  • Symposium on Political Civility published in PS: Political Science & Politics
  • Three surveys conducted by Allegheny College’s Center for Political Participation in April, Sept. and Oct. 2010
  • Surveys looked at data regarding partisanship, compromise, and campaign negativity
  • Findings explore political incivility and the roles of political leaders, campaign consultants, the media, and voters in undermining compromise

IPFW Professor’s Research Shows Republicans/Democrats Differ Greatly in Views of Civility, Compromise

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Associate Professor of Political Science Michael R. Wolf is the co-editor of a multi-part symposium, “Political Civility,” published in the upcoming July issue of PS: Political Science & Politics. With the 2012 presidential election gaining momentum, surveys looking at data regarding partisanship, compromise, and campaign negativity shed light on the campaign trail ahead.

Scholars and pundits alike express concern that political incivility has reached a tipping point and is damaging American democracy. Focusing on current, heightened levels of political incivility, the six articles in the symposium "Political Civility" explore the roles that political leaders, campaign consultants, the media, and voters play in undermining compromise.

Wolf, with co-editor Cherie Strachan of Central Michigan University and the contributing authors, proposes that contemporary incivility is indeed worse than the normal “rough-and-tumble” of political debate and suggests that contemporary incivility is indeed troubling.

In “Incivility and Standing Firm: A Second Layer of Partisan Division” Wolf, Strachan and Daniel Shea analyzed three surveys, conducted from April 2010 through the midterm Election Eve, examining the public’s reactions to political incivility.

Questions focused on people’s perceptions of the political debate and the tone of the campaign, along with their willingness to embrace deliberation and compromise. The results were startling, as incivility “contributes to conditions that make future consensus even less possible and enables long-standing partisan divisions.”

The polls found:

  • Most Republicans wanted politicians to stand firm on principle rather than compromise while most Democrats preferred politicians to compromise to get things done rather than stand firm on principle.
  • Republicans who wanted politicians to stand firm on principle and strong Democrats had a tendency to be mobilized by perceptions of negative campaigning, even when they believed that negative political campaigns are bad for democracy
  • Weaker Democrats and Independents reported being less likely to participate in the campaign when they described the tone of the campaigns as the most negative ever and bad for democracy.
  • The percentage of voters who said that politics had become less civil since President Obama took office grew from 48 percent in April 2010 to 58 percent in September and was at 63 percent before the 2010 election.
  • Republicans blame the incivility on liberal television commentators and the Democratic Party; Democrats finger conservative commentators, talk radio, and the Republican Party, while Independents blame the political parties for the growing incivility.
  • The electoral partisan polarization is strong, as 42 percent of those surveyed were strong Republicans or Democrats who tended to be the most open to negative campaigning and blaming the other side for incivility.

“A substantial number of Americans not only have strong policy preferences, but also reject consensual politics. Republicans and Democrats differ greatly on views of civility, whether it is more important for politicians to compromise to get things done or stand firm on principle, and who is to blame for incivility,” said Wolf.

For more information contact Michael Wolf at 260-481-6898 or wolfm@ipfw.edu or Nicole Wilkins at 260-241-5496 or wilknn01@ipfw.edu.

PS: Political Science & Politics is published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association (APSA). The journal provides critical analyses of contemporary political phenomena and is the journal of record for the discipline of political science reporting on research, teaching, and professional development.

APSA, founded in 1903, is the leading professional organization for the study of political science and serves more than 15,000 members in more than 80 countries. With a range of programs and services, APSA brings together political scientists from all fields of inquiry, regions, and occupational endeavors within and outside academe, with the aim of expanding awareness and understanding of politics. For more information visit apsanet.org.

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