Politeness in Politics: The Partisan Debate

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

Throughout his campaign for president, George W. Bush portrayed himself as an outsider who would bring an end to partisan politics in Washington, D.C. He referred to himself as someone who unites people rather than divides them. This rhetoric was extended to his inauguration speech, in which Bush said, "We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos."

In a speech this past August, Bush took some credit for progress toward this goal by saying his administration was "ending deadlock and drift and making our system work on behalf of the America people." Naturally, Democratic leaders see things in a much different light; many have criticized the Bush administration for what they perceive as highly partisan stances on issues such as tax cuts, school vouchers, and healthcare reform.

How do Americans rate the president on this topic? A November Gallup Poll* shows that just over half of the public (57%) believes Bush has "made a sincere effort" to bring civility back to the public debate between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. However, a little more than a third (35%) believe he has not made a sincere effort.

Not surprisingly, opinions on this subject fall largely along partisan lines. The vast majority of Republicans (83%) believe Bush has made a sincere effort to bring civility back to the public debate, compared to 30% of Democrats. Political independents are more divided on the matter, with 50% saying he has, 40% saying he has not, and 10% offering no opinion on the subject.

There is also a difference in opinion among the regions of the country. Bush is more likely to get credit for making a sincere effort from residents of his native South (63%) and people in the West (61%), than he is from people in the Midwest (53%) and East (52%).

Effort Is One Thing, But What About Results?

Gallup also asked respondents** if they feel Bush has been successful in bringing civility back to the public debate in Washington, D.C. Responses to this question mirrored those to the question concerning Bush's effort. Fifty-six percent of Americans believe he's been either very or somewhat successful at bringing civility back to the public debate, while 40% say he has not been very successful or not successful at all.

Again, it should be no surprise that responses vary to a large extent by political affiliation. More than three in four Republicans (76%) say he has been at least somewhat successful in his endeavor to bring civility to Washington. A bare majority of independents, 53%, agree, but only 41% of Democrats think Bush has been successful. A majority of Democrats, 57%, believe Bush has not been successful in changing the tone of debate in Washington.

The most recent results are not quite as positive for Bush now as they were the first time this question was asked in July 2001. At that time, 62% considered his efforts successful, while 30% felt they were unsuccessful.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 495 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 8-10, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5%.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 519 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 8-10, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5%.

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