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Polls Show Voters Want Civility

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—A survey sponsored by the Knights of Columbus found that Americans frustration with the “tone,” of political campaigns is growing.

The Knights of Columbus officially chartered in 1882, is the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization. The group has lunched a campaign to restore civility in the political process. They are calling on “candidates, the media and other advocates and commentators involved in the public policy arena to employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues, focusing on policies rather than on individual personalities.”

Members of the the Knights of Columbus “vowed to be defenders of their country, their families and their faith” so this is in keeping with their fraternal beliefs.

The poll conducted by The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion shows that nearly 8 in 10 Americans (78 percent) say they are “frustrated” by the tone of political campaigns. Almost three-quarters say the problem is getting worse: 74 percent believe that the tone of political campaigns has “gotten more negative” than in past election years.

Looking deeper into the results reveals that among registered voters, regardless of political party, it is believed the focus of political campaigns is not on the issues but on attacking political opponents.

When asked “Would you describe the tone of political campaigns in this country as: Mostly civil and respectful or Mostly uncivil and disrespectful,” only 37 percent agreed it was mostly civil and respectful.

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The survey of 1,010 adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States, was conducted from July 9, 2012, through July 11, 2012.

The poll found that there is a strong consensus of opinion across party lines. Some 59 percent of registered voters are dismayed about the tone of political discourse including 60 percent of Republicans, and 58 percent of both Democrats and Independents. Around 63 percent of Americans over 45 perceive the tone to be disrespectful compared with only 46 percent of younger generations.

During the primary campaign for the GOP presidential nomination Mitt Romney’s organization was most effective when on the attacking opponents.

Now, he, President Obama and their surrogates are in pitch battle of negative campaigning.

The idea of a political campaign going negative is not a new idea, in fact according to Victor Kamber, in his 1997 book “Poison Politics,” the idea of opposition research and the politics of personal destruction are as old as the first republic. In his book Kamber says, “In the 1st Century B.C., Cicero is said to have gathered information that was damaging to opponents and using it in attacks against them. He accused one political opponent, Catiline, of murdering one wife to make room for another. He attacked Mark Antony in speeches known as the Philippics, eventually prompting Antony to chop off his head and right hand and display them at the Roman Forum.”

So, far there are no reports of beheading in the current election cycle.

For those who would venerate the founding fathers as gods of morals and civility might note that U.S. President John Adams, accused his rival Thomas Jefferson of planning to burn all Bibles and legalize prostitution if elected president in 1800.

Not to be out done Jefferson hired scandalmonger James Callender to attack Adams writing, President Adams was a man endowed with a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman;” and if re-elected he would crown himself king; and was “mentally deranged.” It would seem that according to Callender, President Adams might not be welcomed at the Chic-fil-a.

In a show of civility President Adams had Callender arrested and he spent nine months in prison under the Sedition Act of 1798 for libeling the seating President.

Callender was later pardon by Jefferson, but when the notorious scandalmonger turned on Jefferson and rival Alexander Hamilton, he was found dead, facedown in a shallow pond. Seems the writer had a drinking problem.

The survey also revels that Americans over 45 years of age, 80 percent are even more likely to perceive the tone of political campaigns to be increasingly harsh than their younger counterparts, 65 percent.

When asked, “Do you think the tone of political campaigns in this country has generally gotten more positive or more negative than it has been in past election years? 74 percent responded, More Negatively with only 19 percent saying, Move positively.”

Perhaps most interesting is the that 67 percent of registered voters view the impact of this campaign strategy as detrimental to the nation’s political process including 72 percent of independents, 71 percent of Republicans, and 59 percent of Democrats.

It appears the Knights of Columbus survey show many believe we have lost any sense of common political purpose. Hyperbole has replaced principled dialogue, and sloganeering has taken the place of intelligent thought. The fear that politicos both right and left have allowed the process to become a blood sport rather than a civic duty.

“The American people want and deserve civility and a conversation on the issues rather than the personal vilification of political opponents,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “As this current data makes all too clear, the American people want a political discussion that is civil and respectful. As Americans, we understand that we may not agree on every aspect of every issue, but we also understand that how we disagree says a great deal about who we are as a nation.”

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