A vast majority of Americans believe that civility in society is worse than it was a decade ago, blaming social media and general media for the decline, according to the American Bar Association’s (ABA) annual poll released on April 27.
Fully 85 percent of the 1,000 respondents of the “ABA Survey of Civic Literacy 2023” (pdf) said civility in today’s society is worse than it was 10 years ago. Only 6 percent said it was better, while 8 percent said it is unchanged.
When asked about the factors causing declining civility, 29 percent blamed it on social media, 24 percent said media, 19 percent said public officials, and 8 percent said the education system.
ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross said the results spotlighted America’s “period of divisiveness” and called for efforts to “restore confidence in our democratic institutions.”
More than one-third of those polled, 34 percent, said family and friends should be primarily responsible for improving civility in society, while 27 percent said public officials.
When asked about making America a more polite place, 90 percent of respondents said parents and families are most responsible for instilling civility in children. Only 6 percent said schools had that responsibility.
The survey was administered by DAPA Research on behalf of the ABA and was conducted by live telephone in March 17-22, 2023.
Civility is often defined as polite behavior. Being civil is behaving in a way that is respectful and considerate of other people. Those who believe civility doesn’t work were also more likely to justify uncivil behavior.
Multiple polls and reports have affirmed the nation’s concern over deteriorating civility:
“Civil discourse is a key to a healthy democracy,” said Pam Jenkins, president of Weber Shandwick Global Public Affairs, in a press release. “The public has identified our civility problem, and it is now up to all of us to encourage the solutions that will make our government and society work better.”
According to the 2019 Weber Shandwick “Civility in America” report, the types of actions that people believe would improve civility include broad support for solutions ranging from greater parental responsibility to corporate measures to civility training:
Thomas Jefferson once noted, “It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigour. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.”
Likewise, Samuel Adams once said, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
When it comes to improving civility, George Washington wrote out the “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” as a school exercise in his early years. The list of rules was composed by French Jesuits in 1595.