a1 Central Michigan University
a2 Indiana University – Purdue University, Fort Wayne
The articles in this symposium are peppered with numerous recent incidents of political incivility ranging from physical scuffles at town hall meetings to the now-infamous accusation shouted at president Barack Obama during a nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress. Name calling and ad hominem attacks that were once associated with talk radio and cable television pundits have made their way into the halls of governing institutions, which no longer serve as sacred spaces one-step removed from bare-knuckled politics. Indeed, divisive views have even made inroads into “safe” topics for discussion—the weather and sports. Forget the intensity of debate over climate change. Democrats were actually 10% more likely to claim that the 2012 winter season was warmer than were their Republicans counterparts (Newport 2012). Sports no longer offers a neutral conversation starter, as 27% of Republicans view Tim Tebow as their favorite quarterback compared to only 9% of Democrats (Public Policy Polling 2011). Vitriol, combined with legislative gridlock and the uproar of protestors—not only in Washington, DC, but also in state capitals and prominent cities across the country—has shifted our discipline's attention to the role of political civility in sustaining a healthy democracy.
J. Cherie Strachan is director of the Women and Gender Studies Program, as well as associate professor of political science at Central Michigan University. She is the author of High-Tech Grassroots: The Professionalization of Local Elections, as well as numerous articles and book chapters. Her recent publications focus on the role of civility in a democratic society, as well as on college-level civic education interventions intended to enhance students' civic skills and identities. Her applied research, which focuses on facilitating student-led deliberative discussions sessions and on enhancing campus civil society, has resulted in an affiliation with the Kettering Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].
Michael R. Wolf is associate professor Indiana University, Purdue University, Fort Wayne. He co-edited (with Laura Morales and Ken'ichi Ikeda) Political Discussion in Modern Democracies: A Comparative Perspective, and has authored or coauthored numerous articles and book chapters on American and comparative public opinion and voting behavior. He can be reached at [email protected].