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Nine in Ten U.S. Adults Feel Rivalries are Keeping Politicians from Addressing the Interests of Americans Like Them

Majorities also feel each party is more interested in "beating" the opposition than in what's good for the country

NEW YORK, March 11, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Hot tempers and heated words have always been part of the U.S. political scene. In fact, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel in the early days of the United States. But how bad do Americans think it's gotten? A new Harris Poll addresses the issue of incivility in politics and public life, and whether it's seen as getting in the way of the actual work our political leaders are meant to be doing on our collective behalf. While politicians may not be dueling, findings indicate that roughly nine in ten U.S. adults (89%) believe that political discussions today are angry and bad tempered, and roughly seven in ten (69%) believe that today's political climate is more angry and bad tempered than it was in the past.

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These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014. (Full results, including data tables, available here)

Angry – and getting angrier?
When given four possible responses, most Americans say that political discussion today is either "much too angry and bad tempered" (40%) or "somewhat angry and bad tempered" (48%).

  • Democrats and Independents (43% each) are more likely than Republicans (35%) to say "much too angry."
  • Matures (ages 68+; 48%) and Baby Boomers (ages 49-67; 45%) are more likely than Gen Xers (ages 37-48; 37%) and Echo Boomers (ages 18-36; 34%) to think that political discourse is "much too angry and bad tempered" today.

Seven in ten U.S. adults (69%) believe that the political climate today is more bad tempered than in the past, while only 5% think it's less angry and bad tempered today. 

  • The older Americans get (and therefore the longer their memories), the more likely they are to believe political discourse is more angry and bad tempered today (87% Matures, 76% Baby Boomers, 66% Gen Xers, 57% Echo Boomers).

Seven in ten Americans (71%) also believe that "how American politicians treat one another influences how American citizens treat one another," with 26% indicating "very much" believing this.

  • Liberals (79%) are more likely than Moderates (71%) to believe this, with Moderates in turn more likely than Conservatives (63%) to feel this is true.

Strong majorities of U.S. adults believe that in public discourse it's inappropriate for politicians, political commentators or citizens to use language referring to war or fighting when discussing political differences (74%, with 40% specifying that it's not at all appropriate), referencing opponents as "enemies" (83% and 54%, respectively), or making reference or allusion to causing physical harm to opponents (90% and 72%, respectively).

The blame game
Looking at recent partisan bickering in Washington, three in ten Americans (29%) say Republicans deserve the most blame, down a bit from 34% last October, in the wake of the government shutdown, while the percentage blaming Democrats most holds steady at 17%. But nearly half (47%, up from 42% in October) say both parties are equally deserving of blame.

  • Democrats are most likely to lay the most blame on Republicans (56%), while Republicans (51%) and Independents (55%) are most likely to lay the lion's share of the blame on both parties equally.
  • Women are more likely than men to blame both parties equally (50% women, 43% men), while men are more likely to blame, well, anyone – as they are more likely than women both to say that Republicans (32% men, 26% women) and Democrats (19% and 15%, respectively) deserve the most blame.

What about us?
The rivalry between Democrats and Republicans (as well as the one between mainstream and "Tea Party" Republicans) has been widely credited in the media with grinding our government to a halt, with obstructionism trumping taking care of business. Americans appear to concur, with nine in ten (89%) agreeing – more than six in ten (62%) strongly so – that party rivalries are keeping politicians from addressing the interests of "Americans like me."

Looking individually at the Republicans and Democrats, majorities also agree – albeit more strongly when talking about Republicans – that each party is more interested in "beating" the other than they are in what's good for the country; 77% believe this is true of Republicans, while 64% say it holds true for Democrats.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #24, March 11, 2014
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll
On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll.  Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.

Press Contact:
Corporate Communications
The Harris Poll
[email protected]

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SOURCE The Harris Poll

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