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Civility in America 2019: Solutions for Tomorrow


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The latest installment of Civility in America, an annual poll conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, once again finds that the majority of Americans perceive incivility to be a problem in our society.

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Civility in America 2019: Solutions for Tomorrow

  1. 1. 2 Introduction Weber Shandwick, in partnership with Powell Tate and KRC Research, began exploring civil discourse in the public square in 2010. Even then, the perceived lack of civility in the United States had far-reaching implications and negative consequences for the nation. Over these many years, Americans continue to report that incivility is harming America’s future, our standing in the world and our democracy. This year, we wanted to call out solutions to bettering our lack of civility in order to improve society and our nation’s well-being. Our ninth installment of Civility in America was conducted in February 2019 among 1,230 U.S. adults 18 years of age and older and 100 teens aged 16-17.
  2. 2. It has never been more important to understand the sources and impact of America’s eroding state of public discourse, as Americans continue to view it as an alarming problem. From consumers in the marketplace and students in schools, to employees in the workplace and voters at the polls, few are immune to our country’s civility crisis. We believe findings from this year’s study provide constructive solutions for how to imbue civility back into all the ways we engage in our public squares and workplaces. 3 Andy Polansky CEO, Weber Shandwick
  3. 3. 4 The State Of Civility In America In 2019: A Pervasive Problem Undermined By Social Media
  4. 4. A Pervasive Perception of Incivility 5 6% 5% 7% 5% 7% 5% 6% 6% 7% 29% 30% 30% 32% 28% 28% 24% 24% 25% 65% 65% 63% 63% 65% 67% 69% 69% 68% 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2016 2017 2018 2019 Not a problem Minor Major Americans continue to report a severe civility deficit in our nation, with a vast majority – 93% – identifying a civility problem in society, and most classifying it as a “major” problem (68%). Problem with Civility in America Today (among Total Americans) (%s do not add up to 100 because of rounding)
  5. 5. 39% 55% 55% 54% 53% 58% 56% 50% 54% 35% 37% 30% 31% 34% 30% 22% 27% 30% 26% 9% 14% 15% 13% 13% 22% 23% 17% 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2016 2017 2018 2019 Get Worse Stay the Same Get Better The State of Civility is Expected to Worsen 6 More than one-half of Americans (54%) expect the general tone and level of civility in the country to decline even further during the next few years. During the next few years, civility in America will… (among Total Americans)
  6. 6. Social Media/the Internet is Perceived as Top Source of Incivility 7 Nearly six in 10 Americans (57%) who expect the level of civility in society to decline during the next few years cite social media and/or the Internet as the leading reason for erosion. 26% 28% 29% 29% 30% 38% 40% 47% 50% 57% America's youth Liberals Demonstrators or protestors Congress Hollywood celebrities Political and social activists, conservative or liberal The news media Politicians in general The White House Social media/the Internet Top 10 Factors Contributing to the Erosion of Civility in America (among Americans who expect civility to get worse)
  7. 7. Social Media and the Internet as a Reason Civility Will Worsen in the U.S. (among Americans who expect civility to get worse) Social Media/the Internet has Grown Considerably as a Source of Incivility Since 2012 8 We first presented “the Internet and social media” as a potential cause of civility erosion in 2012. At that time, just 24% who saw civility declining identified it as a cause. The increase in blaming the Internet and social media for the demise of civility has more than doubled since we began investigating its role. 24% 34% 37% 63% 69% 56% 57% 2012 2013 2014 2016 2017 2018 2019
  8. 8. 9 63% of Americans say that, in their experience, the impact of social media on civility has been more negative than positive. Effect of Social Media on Civility 9% 9% 10% 5% 13% 8% 9% 19% 15% 21% 24% 24% 21% 14% 63% 65% 62% 56% 52% 65% 71% 9% 11% 7% 15% 11% 6% 6% Gender Generation Total Americans Men Women Gen Zs (age 16-21) Millennials (age 22-38) Gen Xers (age 39-54) Boomers (age 55-73) More negative than positiveMore positive than negative Not sureEqually positive and negative Social Media Plays an Increasingly Negative Role
  9. 9. 10 10.3 6.9 6.2 6.7 10.6 10.2 5.9 3.4 2.6 3.4 5.2 4.7 4.4 3.5 3.6 3.3 5.4 5.5 2013 2014 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total Weekly Interactions In-Person Interactions Online Interactions Uncivil Online Interactions are on the Rise The number of uncivil online interactions that Americans have experienced has grown. In 2013, they claimed an average of 4.4 uncivil interactions online per week. That rate is now at an average of 5.5 uncivil interactions online per week. Average Number of Incivility Interactions Per Week (among those who have experienced incivility)
  10. 10. 11 A Civil Workplace Benefits Employers and Employees Alike
  11. 11. 12 4% 10% 8% 11% 44% 44% 45% 42% 48% 44% 2017 2018 2019 Don't Know Very/Somewhat Uncivil Somewhat Civil Very Civil The Workplace is a Civility Safe Zone 89% of Americans who work with others describe their place of employment as very or somewhat civil, a statistic that has changed little since we began tracking civility at work in 2017. General Tone and Level of Civility in Place of Employment (among employed Americans with coworkers) 92% 86% 89%
  12. 12. A Civil Workplace Positively Affects Job Performance 13 Nearly six in 10 Americans (57%) who expect the level of civility in society to decline during the next few years cite social media and/or the Internet as the leading reason for erosion. How Civility at Work Affects Job Performance (among employed Americans with coworkers in civil workplaces) 78% 22% Has no impact on your job performance Has an impact on your job performance 40% Improves your job morale 40% Makes you want to continue to work there 36% Improves the quality of your work 34% Leads you to be more collaborative 30% Makes you feel better about yourself 28% Has a positive effect on your personal time away from work 20% Leads you to be more creative 18% Causes you to encourage others to apply to your organization 1% In some other way not listed above
  13. 13. 14 Few Respond to Incivility at Work when it Occurs When people encounter incivility at work, their most commonly reported reactions are to ignore the person acting uncivilly (54%) and to remove themselves from the situation (49%). Far fewer speak directly to the uncivil perpetrator (24%) or contact their supervisor or HR department (11%) to report the uncivil behavior. Action Taken the Last Time Experienced Incivility at Work (among employed Americans with coworkers and experienced incivility at work) 12% 5% 5% 11% 11% 11% 11% 21% 24% 49% 54% None of the above Quit or resigned your position Wrote a letter or email to complain about uncivil behavior Filed a report to document uncivil behavior Responded uncivilly yourself Relocated your work space or work area Reported uncivil behavior to your supervisor or HR Defended a person being treated uncivilly Spoke directly to the person who did not treat you civilly Removed yourself from the situation Ignored the person acting uncivilly
  14. 14. 15 Civility’s Way Forward: Solutions for Tomorrow
  15. 15. 16 17% 18% 21% 21% 21% 28% 28% 32% 35% 35% 37% 42% 42% 55% A national day of civility A coalition of companies that promotes civility in society Employers should discourage employees from discussing controversial subjects that could turn uncivil Employers ensuring they hire civil people A congressional civility committee to set and enforce civility among its members Eliminating anonymous comments on news media sites A national campaign to promote civility Firing people who are uncivil in the workplace Employers encouraging employees to report incivility at work Employers training people how to intervene when others are being treated uncivilly Civility training in the workplace Civility education in schools and colleges Warning or taking disciplinary action against people who are uncivil in the workplace Parents teaching civility to their children Americans Support Broad Solutions The largest share of Americans believe civility improvements start in the home, with 55% saying they would like to see parents teaching civility to their children as a way to improve overall civility. Workplace solutions make up the majority of the other top remedies. Actions to Improve Civility (among Total Americans)
  16. 16. 17 10% 11% 13% 20% 23% 25% 27% 35% 38% 43% 45% 46% Donate money or time to support organizations that promote civility Become more involved in politics Publicly share or post stories, photos or videos about people who act uncivilly Flag information shared in social media that is uncivil Post more positive things in social media about things you see happening Stop watching news programs/reading news articles about uncivil issues or topics Boycott sponsors of online and other programs with hosts who behave uncivilly Speak up against, or do something about, incivility when you see it Commit to one act of civility-say or do something nice-regularly Vote for political leaders who behave in a civil way Encourage your family, friends, and coworkers to be civil Make an effort to be civil when treated uncivilly 88% selected at least one item On average, Americans chose 3.4 actions Americans Also Make Solutions Personal The vast majority of Americans – 88% – selected at least one action they would be willing to take, and they chose 3.4 actions on average. Topping the list are: making an effort to be civil when treated uncivilly (46%), encouraging family, friends and coworkers to be civil (45%) and voting for political leaders who behave in a civil way (43%). Personal Actions to Improve Civility (among Total Americans)
  17. 17. 18 64% 59% 59% 58% 57% 57% 53% 48% 47% 42% 19% 21% 23% 26% 24% 22% 29% 32% 32% 39% 9% 12% 10% 8% 10% 13% 10% 10% 10% 9% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8% 10% 10% 9% Elected officials The media The federal government Public schools State and local governments Social media companies Colleges and universities Businesses and corporations Religious or faith- based institutions Community and nonprofit organizations Larger role Similar role they play now Smaller role Not sure Americans Expect Institutions To Step Up Americans are decidedly open to institutional involvement in addressing the country’s civility deficit. Americans believe there is a larger role for many institutions – with elected officials at the top of the list at 64% – to play in helping improve the level of civility in our nation. In your opinion, should the following institutions play a larger, the same, or a smaller role in helping to improve the level of civility in our nation? (among total Americans)
  18. 18. 19 Civil discourse is a key to a healthy democracy. 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. 19 Pam Jenkins, President of Weber Shandwick Global Public Affairs
  19. 19. In Closing… 20 Our nine years of Civility in America research highlights the intractable challenge that incivility exerts on the lives of everyday Americans. As another election cycle kicks into high gear, we believe Americans are willing to try anew at building a civility culture, and we offer some solutions for jumpstarting a nationwide effort: American corporations and business owners can contribute to a national effort by sharing their best practices in building civil workplace cultures. Combining those efforts with other institutions – including government entities, religious groups, businesses and educational bodies – will bring diverse points of view to bear on developing solutions. Social media companies can play a central role by continuing to root out nefarious online behavior and protect users. Civility solutions programs should all be designed around empowering the individual to get involved.
  20. 20. Thank you Andy Polansky Chief Executive Officer Weber Shandwick Gail Heimann President Weber Shandwick Jack Leslie Chairman Weber Shandwick Chris Perry Chief Digital Officer Weber Shandwick For more information about Civility in America 2019: Solutions for Tomorrow, please contact: 21 Pam Jenkins President, Global Public affairs Weber Shandwick Paul Massey President, Powell Tate Global Lead, Social Impact Weber Shandwick Lance Morgan Chief Communications Strategist Weber Shandwick Kate Bullinger President United Minds (Weber Shandwick’s employee engagement and change management consultancy) Leslie Gaines-Ross Chief Reputation Strategist Weber Shandwick Mark Richards SVP/Management Supervisor KRC Research