PBS, Obama net top marks, but Americans say civility deteriorating

Published: Friday, June 15 2012 8:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama talks about the economy, Friday, June 8, 2012, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. The third annual 'Civility in America' survey reveals Americans consider Barack Obama to be slightly more civil than Mitt Romney.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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Americans continue to doubt whether civility in public discourse can survive in a partisan political climate, according to the Civility in America 2012 survey released this week.

"Overall, attitudes about the state of civility in America have not changed since 2010 — roughly two out of three Americans believe that we have a major civility problem today and approximately seven in 10 believe it has deteriorated over the past few years," the survey summarized. "Americans of all political persuasions agree that civility is a major problem today (65 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Independents).

"However, Democrats are somewhat more likely to believe civility has improved over the past few years and will continue to get better. Republicans and Independents expect civility to get worse."

Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple not only highlighted the fact that PBS was the media outlet with the survey's highest marks for civility, but also wondered aloud how 16 percent of respondents could possibly label PBS as "uncivil."

"PBS wins the contest, with 16 percent voting 'uncivil' and 67 percent voting 'civil,'" Wemple wrote. "That spread beats the sneering daylights out of the cable channels: Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are all in the 30-50 uncivil-civil neighborhood. …

"Yet still! Even as it trounces the field on friendliness, PBS manages to poll a full 16 percent on the 'uncivil' side. How did this happen? Who are these people and what are they thinking? Did these folks catch a few episodes of 'PBS NewsHour' that I’d missed? Did Gwen Ifill throw a tantrum that went viral somewhere?"

Speaking of "PBS Newshour" host Gwen Ifill, she too blogged Thursday about the survey results.

"Now, we live in a world of sixth grade taunting everywhere we look, where disagreements are settled on the playground of dueling campaign appearances and pundit-driven cable television debates," Ifill wrote on the PBS website. "It's a cacophony with a lot more noise than news, but that's what so much of our public discussion has boiled down to. We pay the price in dumbed-down discourse and a hostile electorate that hates politicians as well as the people who cover them."

In terms of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's perceived civility, the new survey reported, "By a 59-33 margin (+26 percent), Americans consider President Obama more civil than uncivil. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is also viewed as more civil than uncivil (48-39, +9 percent). While these numbers potentially represent good news for the president, the survey was conducted toward the end of the contentious Republican primary season — which may have contributed to Governor Romney’s weaker numbers."

Working in conjunction with public relations firms Powell Tate and Weber Shandwick, KRC Research administered the survey online to 1,000 adults during April.

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