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September 29 2016

2016 Election Brings Out the Worst in Us

Patrice L. Onwuka

We all have a friend who constantly rants on Facebook or Twitter about politics. Their vitriol can even be surprising given their mild-mannered temperament in real life. However, if they’ve turn up the volume on their vitriol prompting you to delete them from your friends list, you’re not alone. Americans say that the vitriolic tone among the candidates has bled into their lives even leading to the loss of relationships.

Monmouth University polled registered voters and found some surprising effects  of the election. At least seven percent of American voters ended a friendship over the presidential race. Some 70 percent say the race has brought out the worst in people and another 5 percent say it’s brought out both the worst and the best. Merely 4 percent disagree – saying it’s brought out the best. Across political lines the perception holds true with Democrats (78%), Republicans (65%), and independents (66%) all agreeing on the negative impact of this cycle.

In addition two out of three say the harsh language is not justified.

If you think supporters of one candidate over another drive the negativity, you’d be surprised:

"Half of Trump supporters seem to be saying let the expletives fly, but many voters blame both sides equally for the negative tone of this year's campaign," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

When asked who tends to engage in harsh language more, half of voters (50%) put the blame equally on both Trump and Clinton supporters.  However, 37% say more of this language is coming from the Trump camp and just 11% say the Clinton camp is more to blame. 

Americans are just tired of incivility in the presidential race. Not surprisingly, a large majority of, Americans are tired of Washington too. About two-thirds (66 percent) are “dissatisfied” with Washington and another 20 percent are “angry.” Only a meager three percent of Americans are happy with Washington – no doubt those who work for or benefit directly from the federal system. 

We’ve regularly seen pleas for civility in politics. Allegheny College even created the Prize for Civility in Public Life to which it gave Veep Joe Biden and Senator John McCain for their demonstrated willingness to work across the aisle.

Incivility and vitriol are damaging to our relationships and that filters our ability to get things done. Have you ever been in a toxic work environment full of name-calling, gossip, and lying? While our Congress doesn’t erupt into fist-to-cuffs like some foreign parliaments, the back-and-forth on Capitol Hill has stymied Congress and continues to frustrate Americans with our legislative body.

Former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge made a heart-felt plea for civility earlier this year, referencing a time in politics when policy views separated politicians, but they found ways not to be come divided:

When I served in Congress in the 1980s, Tip O’Neill was the larger-than-life Speaker of the House. A New England Democrat, Tip and I rarely agreed on policy. But Tip encouraged camaraderie between the R’s and D’s on the Hill because he knew if there was hatred between us, he simply would not be able to get anything of substance done. He encouraged the Four O’Clock Caucus, a regular basketball game named for the time at which Tip refused to call votes, so Republicans and Democrats could burn off steam in the House gym, while building lasting friendships outside of partisan politics. I remember a young congressman named John Kasich having a decent jump shot.

As this presidential campaign pushes toward November, I hope Americans demand more out of their candidates. Not just better ideas, but a better approach.

I don’t know if pick-up-basketball games are the cure-all, but we do have to figure out how to agree to disagree with civility.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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