Nearly three-fourths of Utahns believe political discussions in America have become less civil over the past five years, a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows.
"There is some real intensity of feeling against Washington action in some sensitive areas," says Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "But on these questions of civility and political speech, it always seems worse at the moment."
Indeed, leaders of both the Utah Republican and Democratic parties say they aren't so sure that the political tone in America, or Utah, has gotten much worse than half a decade ago.
"Not so much that it is less civil," said GOP chairman Dave Hansen. "But that we are seeing so much more of it these days because of the internet and cable TV and radio shows."
Todd Taylor, executive director of the state Democratic Party, says he doesn't see any less civil political dialogue during the first months of the President Barack Obama administration than the end of President George Bush's years. "Less civil (today) than the public demonstrations against Bush?"
All this really "came when we saw the advent of the Rush Limbaugh phenomena — it certainly is not better today, but it is not a lot worse," Taylor said.
Jones found that 71 percent of Utahns say the tone of political discussions is less civil today than five years ago. Only 16 percent said it is more civil, with 11 percent saying it really hasn't changed since 2004.
There is a big split between Utah Republicans and Democrats on the issue.
Only 43 percent of Republicans say political dialogue is "definitely" less civil, while 61 percent of Democrats feel so, Jones found.
Of course, it is national Republicans, swept from power in the 2008 elections, and their supporters who have been most critical of Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the last few months.
So Utah Republicans are more accepting of that criticism — perhaps thinking it is not as harsh as some — than are local Democrats.
Men are also more likely to accept the current "tone" of political debate than are women, the poll shows.
Still, nearly half of all Utahns — 47 percent — told Jones that political discussion today is "definitely less civil" than five years ago.
"While it is good to urge civility, from the time of the Boston Tea Party — events from the beginning of our country until now — our (political speech) is dictated in a large part by citizen response to government action or inaction," Jowers said.
Here's another interesting poll finding: 41 percent of Utahns think the far-right of the Republican Party has too much influence in Utah politics.
But nearly half also think that far-right Republicans help the political process here, not hurt it, Jones found in a survey of 410 Utahns on Sept. 11-13. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Not surprisingly, most Utahns think that "radical liberals" have too much say in the national government, perhaps because most Utahns are Republicans and Obama is a Democrat, and Democrats control both the U.S. House and Senate.
On the other side of the coin, Utah has a Republican governor and the GOP has two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate, and have for more than 20 years.
Jowers noted that only Utah and Connecticut have binding neighborhood caucus and convention systems in nominating party candidates. "That absolutely gives the far right (of the Republican Party) and the far left (of the Democratic Party) undue influence in candidate selection."
Jowers said that recently one leading conservative Utahn said that former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., seen as a moderate by most Utahns, would be politically "killed" in the state GOP convention if he tried to get his party's nomination again. And with Huntsman having 90 percent approval ratings by all Utahns, "you see what an undemocratic system we have (in Utah) in certain circumstances" — like if a popular politician can be kicked out of office by a relatively small group of party delegates, Jowers said.
The TV station and newspaper sought to measure Utahns' feelings about the tone of political debate in America and the Beehive State, especially in light of summer-time town hall meetings by many congressmen — where citizens yelled at their national representative or senator and at each other — and the incident of the other night where a GOP House member from South Carolina yelled "you lie" at Obama during the president's health-care reform speech before Congress.
"By and large, (people in public office) try to do the right thing," Taylor said. "We do have a few bomb throwers out there, certainly Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) is on the forefront of that."
Hansen countered that there may be a "few isolated instances" of where local or national officials do something "that raises the eyebrows" of most Utahns.
"But overall, Utahns are happy with the way things are being managed in Utah, and they aren't happy with Washington — where they see rightly that radical liberals are pushing things through that are not good for our country."