The National Institute for Civil Discourse at the UA is a nonpartisan center for advocacy, research and policy regarding civil discourse consistent with First Amendment principles. Chaired by former President George H. W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton, the institute engages in initiatives to advance understanding of civil discourse among elected officials and candidates running for public office and works to promote awareness of the importance of civil discourse to democracy and effective government.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A survey commissioned by the National Institute for Civil Discourse, headquartered at the University of Arizona, indicates that a majority of American voters have lost confidence in the ability of elected leaders to solve the problems facing our country. In fact, fewer than one in 10 American voters has “a great deal” of confidence in elected officials to solve the problems of our country – while twice as many say they have no confidence at all.
“We’ve known for some time how dissatisfied the electorate has become with Congress,” said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the institute’s executive director. “This is the strongest indication we’ve seen that voters think our Congressional leaders are incapable of solving problems.”
Survey respondents identified several underlying causes for the problem-solving paralysis. Most often cited (90 percent) was politicians’ unwillingness to cross party lines, while 83 percent cited the lack of respectful dialogue as an obstacle to solving problems.
Lukensmeyer indicated that previous research conducted by the institute corroborates the importance that voters place on constructive dialogue: “People know from personal experience that you cannot solve a problem without talking about it and that the success of that discussion depends a lot on your tone, the words you use and the level of respect you show one another.”
Asked to choose just two words to describe their feelings about the way elected officials act when dealing with the problems facing the country, 65 percent of voters said they felt “frustrated,” 41 percent said “worried,” 22 percent said “angry” and 22 percent said “ashamed.” Negative emotions prevailed across the political spectrum – Democrats, independents and Republicans.
When asked about the coming debates, 62 percent of American voters say they prefer that a candidate agree with some part of his opponents' agenda and pledge to work across party lines to make it happen, while only 33 percent prefer that a candidate point out a problem in his opponent's agenda, and say what he would do differently. And undecided voters in the presidential race feel this sentiment even more strongly – with fully 78 percent seeking a candidate who commits to work constructively across party lines rather than find fault with his opponent.
Sen. Tom Daschle of the institute’s national board explained that, “Voters are looking to the presidential candidates to strike a different tone – to offer a constructive vision geared to solving the problems facing our country. The upcoming debates will provide a unique opportunity for both candidates to strike that positive tone and demonstrate the collaborative approach that voters want.”
Rep. Jim Kolbe of the institute’s national board added, “The good news is that people are energized. The challenge is to channel their negative feelings into positive action. The research we’ve done indicates that voters want to help change the tone of our country’s civil discourse but they are unclear about how to do that.”
To this end, the institute announced it is launching the website www.YourWordsCount.org, which will offer tools to influence the national conversation. According to Lukensmeyer, the site will provide a number of practical actions citizens can take, such as participating in a political discussion and taking action where they live.
The bipartisan survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) between Aug. 29-30 among 800 registered voters.