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An overwhelming number of Americans believe civility in politics is important, but that things have seriously veered onto the wrong track in the 2016 elections, according to a new Colby College-Boston Globe poll. Moreover, many believe that things have gotten so bad that the United States may lose prestige.
The poll, released Thursday, shows that by large margins voters are sick of the uncivil tone in politics and want to shake hands and move forward with political compromise.
“It seems most Americans view the election as particularly nasty. They know the world is watching—and that it doesn’t shine a nice light on our democracy,” said Daniel Shea, professor of government and director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby.
The sample included 845 likely voters from across the nation. The poll by SurveyUSA, a national opinion research firm, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.37 percent.
Some 90 percent of Americans agree that civility—defined as general politeness and respect—is important for a healthy democracy. That result cuts across genders, age, income, party lines, and all demographic categories.
Yet 81 percent think “right now Washington is broken.” And 76 percent believe the tone of civility has gotten worse in the last decade. For those over 65 years of age, that figure jumps to 87 percent.
Have we reached a civility crisis in America? Sixty-nine percent say yes. This jumps to 75 percent for women.
The current presidential campaign is described as “much more negative” compared to previous elections by 64 percent of those polled. Twenty percent say a “bit more.” And 97 percent of those over 65 years old say it is worse than in the past.
When asked whether American society in general has become less civil in the last decade, 83 percent say yes.
The poll asked: “Given what you have seen of the 2016 election thus far, should Americans feel proud or embarrassed by the process?” Eighty percent say embarrassed, a result that cuts across party lines. And a whopping 70 percent say that the 2016 election campaign will lower our nation’s standing in the world, an opinion shared by all demographic groups interviewed.
The respondents were asked to assess the importance for both sides in the election to cool tempers and come together to confront the difficult issues facing the nation. Ninety-three percent—Republicans and Democrats—said either that it is very or somewhat important.
“The good news is that there is clear evidence that Americans of all stripes want to come together after the election to get things done. There’s a nastiness fatigue; a desire to end the feud and get to work,” said Shea.
There was slight partisan difference in response to the question: Should politicians seek compromise solutions or stand firm on principles? Fifty-one percent of Republican respondents said politicians should compromise, while 79 percent of Democrats called for compromise. When asked whether it would help if each party had more respect for the other’s point of view, 87 percent of all respondents agreed.
Respondents on both sides of the partisan divide said elected officials should try to establish friendships with members of the other political party. Eighty-two percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans think cross-party friendships are a good idea.