State of US Political Discourse? Poll Says: Lousy

(CN) — The American public revealed harsh feelings about the nation’s deteriorating political discourse and the reasons behind it, according to a survey from Pew Research. Though respondents felt that President Trump was a contributing factor, they also blamed themselves.

In a survey of 10,170 adults between April 29 and May 13, researchers said a majority of respondents found today’s political discourse negative, disrespectful, less fact-based and less focused on the issues.

Overall, 85% of respondents said that political discourse has become more negative, not just in topic but also in tenor. Eighty-five percent also said that discourse has become less respectful, 76% find was less fact-based and 60% said discourse is less focused on issues.

Democratic and Republican respondents agreed on these phenomena. Both sets of respondents’ answers were within 3 percentage points of each other on each of these broad questions.

Additionally, majorities of respondents from both parties said that social media companies have a responsibility to police their platforms: 52% of Republican respondents and 77% of Democrats.

But a 45% plurality of respondents were not confident that the companies are able to define offensive content.  Majorities of both parties (66% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats) felt that people share responsibility for regulating their own language online.

Respondents were far less congruent in assigning blame for the deterioration in political discourse. Though a 74% majority of respondents said their local communities were at least somewhat open to a range of opinions and viewpoints, Democrats and Republicans differed greatly when asked about specific institutions’ ability to accept a variety of viewpoints.

Only 44% of Republicans said that colleges and universities are at least somewhat open to differing views, whereas 87% of Democrats said so. In contrast, 56% of Republicans said that churches and religious organizations were at least somewhat open to differing views, whereas only 40% of Democrats said so.

Respondents were also split on whether to blame President Trump for the deteriorating political discourse.

A 55% majority blamed the negative state of political discourse on him, but that majority was primarily sustained by Democratic respondents. Eighty-four percent of Democrats blamed the situation on Trump, whereas 49% of Republicans said that he has improved the discourse.

Overwhelming majorities of Democratic respondents said that Trump’s statements often or sometimes make them feel concerned, confused, embarrassed, exhausted, angry, insulted or frightened. But large majorities of Republican respondents said Trump’s statements often make them feel entertained, informed, hopeful, excited, happy, proud, respected and inspired.

Overall, the only positive feeling toward Trump’s statements that averaged in the majority was entertainment.

The data suggest that respondents are hesitant to talk about their opinion Trump not because of institutional or community-based blockades, but, ironically, to avoid conflict.

Few respondents were worried about discussing Trump for fear of judgment, lack of political information or generalized futility. Fifty-six percent of respondents who support Trump and 57% of his critics said they simply want to avoid discomfort or offending recipients.

A 78% majority of respondents feel that heated, aggressive language from politicians breeds violence. Seventy-three percent said that politicians should avoid such language.

Majorities of respondents felt that politicians should be honest and ethical, know the issues, admit when they’re wrong, respect their opponents and be willing to compromise. Notably, respondents did not feel that fund raising should be a priority. Only 39% of respondents felt that politicians should prioritize reelection fund-raising efforts.

Overall, the data revealed that the public acknowledge the deterioration in American political discourse. It indicates that the American public feels that each actor, including politicians, Trump, social media and themselves, share responsibility for a widespread breakdown in communications and increased hostility.

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