Still a Chance for Civility in Politics?


Though we’re now more than a month past the November elections, I still get the jitters when I turn on the television and see what looks like the potential for a political advertisement. I’m probably not the only one, either, following a particularly negative campaign season.

One of the biggest complaints heard about the election was the overabundance of negative political campaigns. Instead of hearing about what the candidate was actually going to do while in office, most just slammed their opponents – in print, television on the radio. After a while, you start to relate the candidates’ tactics to those you might see in a high school campaign for class president, except these political campaigns are for the men and women that will be deciding things like how much we’re going to pay in taxes. Yikes.

This growing trend of incivility in politics has not gone unnoticed. In fact, a study of this trend was recently released by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College, co-authored by Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Associate Professor of Political Science Michael R. Wolf.

The most recent phase of the study, which was conducted during the last four days before the November election, shows that Americans are calling the atmosphere “increasingly nasty” and potentially harmful for continued democracy in our country. But, the study says, the good news is that a large majority see the potential for passionate and respectful campaigning in the future.

A little less than half (46%) of the registered voters who were surveyed said that the 2010 election was “the most negative” they’d ever seen and 63% of responders said politics had become less civil since President Barack Obama took office – though the responders blamed different sources. Whatever the cause, 64% of study responders said the current tone of politics is unhealthy for our democracy, with 17% saying the tone is healthy and 14% saying it has little impact.

While these numbers indicate the harmful effects of negative campaigning, it turns out that nine out of 10 registered voters are actually optimistic that candidates can conduct aggressive, but respectful, campaigns.

It seems we will just have to wait until the next election rolls around to find out if the candidates themselves are optimistic that respectful campaigning works. Here’s hoping they figure it out, so I can relax next time I flip on the tube.

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