Politics Is Nastier Than Ever. Really?
A majority of Americans think the mid-term election was one of the nastiest they have ever seen, and believe that politics have become increasingly uncivil in the last two years, according to a survey released today.
The survey also found that while a majority of Latinos felt the negative tone of the campaigns for the mid-term election hurts U.S. democracy, Hispanics were the least likely – at 50 percent – of all social groups to think so.
Non-Hispanic whites, at 67 percent, said the negativity driving campaigns was dangerous to democracy, while 55 percent of blacks held that view.
The survey, commissioned by the Center for Political Participation (CPP) at Allegheny College in conjunction with Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW), builds on a previous April poll on the growing incivility in politics.
The poll was conducted the last four days leading up to the November midterm elections,between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1, 2010, and polled 1,252 registered voters.
Some 63 percent of respondents in the latest civility poll believe politics has become less civil since President Barack Obama took office nearly two years ago. This is up from 48 percent in the April survey, and up from 58 percent in a second poll conducted in September, two full months before the midterms.
"You have to remember," said Professor Daniel M. Shea, director of the CPP, "our first wave of polling was done immediately following the health care reform vote. Things were rather hot in Washington. The dramatic increase in the perceptions of negativity since then is stunning. Things have gotten even worse."
Forty six percent of registered American voters in the November poll said this year's election was the "most negative they had ever seen." Another 26 percent said that it was "more negative than in the past," but they had seen worse.
Only 4 percent said that campaigns were more positive than in the past.
"Sure, memories are short and it's common for all of us to think the most recent election was the worst," said Shea. "But these polling results are powerful. Nearly three out of four people believe this election was one of the nastiest they have ever seen."
A majority of voters – 64 percent – polled in November said that the degenerating tone of politics is unhealthy for our democracy. Only 17 percent think the tone of campaigns is healthy for our democracy, while 14 percent think the tone has little impact on democracy.
The poll finds that voters remain optimistic about candidates' ability to run positive campaigns. Nine out of 10 registered voters believe it is "possible for candidates to run for office in aggressive, but in respectful ways."
"This percentage actually grew by 5 percent from our mid-September poll," said Michael Wolf of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, co-author of the study. "Just because the public views campaigns as brutal, particularly this year's, doesn't mean they think it has to be that way. At least for now there remains some optimism out there."
Another sore subject for voters was the role that so-called "outside money" -- through which interest groups not located in a particular district flood a race with ads, mailings and phone calls -- has played in campaigning.
Just less than 60 percent of respondents oppose this practice. Democratic respondents, with 69 percent, were more opposed to outside money than Independents (57 percent opposed). A majority of Republicans, 51 percent, also oppose this practice.
"It's a bit early to know with certainty, but early evidence suggests a strong majority of outside money was aimed at helping the GOP retake control of Congress, and a vast majority of these ads were hard-hitting and negative," Shea said. "It would make sense that some of these ads actually revved up GOP voters."
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