A new poll released by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College and IPFW’s National Civility September Survey, asks a question that is more meaningful than ever in the wake of the attempted assassination of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, “Who is at fault for incivility?”
The answers themselves are not a great surprise: “Affiliates of both major parties simply blame the other side for incivility, while independents point at both parties.”
|Radio talk shows||12%||7%||4%|
|Television news programs||17%||18%||13%|
|Conservative TV commentators||34%||11%||3%|
|Liberal TV commentators||3%||13%||30%|
This Allegheny/IPFW (Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne) study shows that people are increasingly concerned by incivility in political discourse.
Michael Wolf, associate professor of political science at IPFW writes in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that their first civility survey “immediately after the vote on health care reform in March 2010″ revealed that “48 percent of the public believed politics had become less civil since President Obama took office.” The assumption made at the time that this would prove a high-water mark was quickly disproved. Their September survey (shown above) showed that 58 percent of the public said “politics were less civil.” By November, that number was up to 63 percent.
Wolf observes that it is difficult to tell the Tea Partiers apart from the Republicans since “most tea party identifiers in our surveys were also Republicans” and that “we find no significant difference on their views.”
Another fact that comes as no surprise to liberals.
The poll also revealed that Democrats “are more likely to read papers and Republicans are more apt to get news from radio.” Both groups, however, “are most likely to get their news from television or the Internet, which are the very sources that can be the most partial to one party.”
But here is an interesting fact, one that also reinforces what we already knew: “Compromise was preferred by 74 percent of Democrats, whereas 73 percent of Republicans preferred politicians to stand firm.”
One thing everyone agrees upon: all this civility (87 percent of Democrats and 72% of Republicans) is bad for democracy.
Of course, time is found to lay the blame equally. Wolf argues that
The parties continue to purify themselves ideologically through primary elections. Moderates from both parties have struggled in primary elections in recent years against ideological challengers, leaving even fewer in Congress willing to compromise.
While I would argue that there is an element of truth in this, it is far more applicable to Republican than to Democratic politics. You can still find moderates in the Democratic party; you’ll be hard pressed naming one in today’s Republican ranks.
And which party adopted purity standards? It wasn’t the Democrats. The Republican purity push was spearheaded by a Hoosier (not one of Hoosierdom’s high points), James Bopp Jr., an RNC member I’ve previously discussed here, who called his test “Reagan’s unity principle for support of candidates.”
Dan Milbank, who considers Lisa Murkowski a “faithful conservative” wrote an op-ed piece about this for the Washington Post in October, observing:
Comparing the ACU ratings of Murkowski and Bennett with those of other Republicans in the House and Senate going back to 1971 (the first year in the ACU online ratings archive), I discovered that if conservatives were to employ the purity standards they applied to Murkowski and Bennett, they would have rejected many, if not most, of the leading Republican lawmakers of the past 40 years.
Lisa Murkowski (R-AL): 70.2 percent in 2010
Gerald Ford? In 1973 his ACU rating was just 67 percent. He would not even be considered a Republican today.
If you want an example of ideological purity, you need look no further than the GOP. As a USA Today editorial put it in reference to healthcare reform:
The health care divide is the most vivid example so far of how ideological purity police in both parties, but particularly the GOP, are making it harder to address the nation’s most intractable problems.
The keyword being “particularly” the GOP.
So here we have a party that deifies Reagan yet would not consider him a Republican were he active today; a party that demands purity standards of its members; has chased out all its moderates and not only disagrees with but demonizes any opposition to those purity standards; engages in violent anti-government rhetoric including calls for “Second Amendment” remedies, secession and revolution; and a mainstream media which insists on claiming both parties are part of the problem. I should change the title of this piece: it’s not just the right-wing that’s delusional but the right-leaning mainstream media as well.
I can’t end this without pointing to the poll one more time: I find interesting the blame Republicans place on “liberal TV commentators.” I would like to know who these commentators are. Are there networks I am unaware of, that appear only on Republican televisions? It is not like Democrats have a FOX News of their own. MSNBC is not at all comparable. The entire MSM is right-leaning, making it even more difficult to find a left-leaning commentator. With the exception of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, it is difficult to find a “liberal TV commentator” and while Olbermann tends towards bombast, he is out of his league when compared with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and others in the right-wing stratosphere.
There is simply no comparison.
Let’s face the facts: our political discourse is increasingly polarized and the rhetoric (especially on the right) more divisive and violent. The evidence supports this, whatever demands ideology might make upon the speaker. It is not Democrats talking about “Second Amendment” remedies or making comments about how “if ballots don’t work…” It isn’t Democrats who are forming militia units or touting gun ownership or talking about revolution and secession.
Sarah Jones talked yesterday about how “11 of the 20 representatives on Palin’s March 2010 map received death threats starting the next day.” Notice whose map it was, and who was threatened, and tell me if you think it was Democrats who saw the map and then made death threats against other Democrats. It’s not a likely scenario. It’s not even plausible.
So yes, let’s talk about violent political discourse but let’s apportion the blame accurately and stop with the politically correct “both sides need to calm down” approach.