Poll: Nearly 4 In 5 Voters Concerned Incivility Will Lead To Violence

Nov 1, 2018
Originally published on November 1, 2018 12:48 pm

Roughly 80 percent of voters say they are concerned that the negative tone and lack of civility in Washington will lead to violence or acts of terror, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted after the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

But they are divided on who is the most to blame.

More say President Trump is the most to blame than say the same thing about Democrats, the media or Republicans in Congress. Specifically, 42 percent say the president is the most to blame, while about a quarter to a third say the media are the most to blame.

That finding, of course, is sharply divided along party lines. Seventy-one percent of Democrats say Trump is the most to blame. Forty-four percent of Republicans say Democrats in Congress are the most to blame with another 42 percent saying the media are the most to blame. Among independents, 45 percent say Trump is the most to blame and another 30 percent say the media are the most to blame.

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When it comes to the improvised explosive devices mailed to prominent Democrats and critics of the president, the results are similar — 37 percent of Americans blame the way Trump conducts himself, 21 percent say it's the way the media report the news, 12 percent say it's bickering between Democrats and Republicans, and about a quarter say it's none of these factors.

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But those numbers are largely reflections of consistent strongly negative feelings toward the president. In polling beginning June 2017, roughly 4 in 10 Americans have said they strongly disapprove of Trump.

It's no different in Thursday's poll. The president has just a 41 percent approval rating overall, with 52 percent of voters disapproving. And 39 percent of voters strongly disapprove.

It is notable, however, that one thing does cross party lines — the belief that the overall tone and level of civility in Washington, D.C., between Republicans and Democrats has gotten worse since Trump was elected. About three-quarters of voters overall say so, and that includes nearly two-thirds of Republicans.

Those numbers are similar to polling in July 2017, when 70 percent of Americans said the tone in Washington had gotten worse under Trump.

That's far higher than those who said the tone in Washington had gotten worse under President Barack Obama by the summer of 2009. A survey conducted by Gallup for USA Today in July 2009, when Democrats in the House first revealed the Affordable Care Act, found 35 percent believed the tone had gotten worse; 42 percent said it had stayed about the same.

When it comes to the suspicious packages, neither the president nor the media fare very well. Fifty-two percent of voters said they think the president has not acted responsibly in his handling of these incidents, and 50 percent of voters also said the media have not been acting responsibly in its reporting of them.

Those answers are predictably split along party lines — with 83 percent of Democrats saying the president has handled the incidents irresponsibly, and 72 percent of Republicans saying the media have reported on them irresponsibly.

In this last NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll before Tuesday's elections, it's worth noting that, overall, the fundamentals of the election have not changed. The president's approval rating has remained very consistent — and historically low compared with that of other presidents.

And the latest results of the so-called generic ballot question of whom people are more likely to vote for in their district: Democrats lead. Among all registered voters, Democrats led by 6 percentage points (50 to 44 percent), but among likely voters, the Democratic advantage is 9 percentage points. That is a range that can mean trouble in the House for Republicans, said pollster Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.

"Those are numbers Democrats need," Miringoff said, adding, "That's likely to convert to a flip of the House."

That's especially true if midterm turnout is as high as is expected Tuesday.

But because the landscape in the Senate favors Republicans so heavily — with races being run in far more states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election where Democratic incumbents are now defending their seats — there's the strong likelihood of a split result.

The possibility of a blue wave in the House and a red wave in the Senate would have both parties and the president vying for control of the national political narrative heading into the 2020 election cycle.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 28 through Oct. 29. Pollsters interviewed 924 Americans, and the poll has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points. Of those, 822 were registered voters, and answers that refer to voters have a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump continues his blitz on the campaign trail today with a rally in Columbia, Mo. Last night, he was stumping in Florida, where he took a moment, as he often does, to single out journalists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And when we talk about division, this is a big part of the division right there.

GREENE: The president was motioning to the reporters in the back of the room. Now, 29 percent of people do believe that the media is most to blame for the negative tone and lack of civility in Washington. But 40 percent, a higher number, blame President Trump. This is all according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that is out this morning. And let's talk it through with NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, David.

GREENE: So lots of numbers to talk about, and one I really wanted to dig into. It seems like people are not just worried about a lack of civility, according to this poll, but they're concerned that that lack of civility could lead to more violence. What exactly are we seeing here?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And it's an overwhelming number and across party lines. About 4 in 5 voters say that they're concerned that that lack of civility in Washington will lead to violence. About 4 in 10 believe that the way the president conducts himself is largely to blame for incidents like the recent improvised explosive devices that were sent to prominent Democrats and critics of the president. About 1/5 though, we should say, blame the media and the way it reports on the news.

And neither the president nor the media come across very well. About half of Americans say Trump has handled the aftermath of these incidents irresponsibly, and about half also say the media has acted irresponsibly in reporting those incidents. Of course, there's a political split in that. About 4 in 5 Democrats say Trump has acted irresponsibly, while about 3/4 quarters of Republicans say the media has.

GREENE: Well, Domenico, help me understand this, as well. The survey is telling us that people feel civility has gotten much worse since President Trump took office, but 40 percent - only 40 percent - think that he is responsible for that. Can you make sense of that at all?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, about 3/4 say the overall tone and level of civility in Washington have gotten worse since Trump has become president, and that's up from earlier in his presidency and much higher than when President Obama was in office, by the way. And Obama, we know, was certainly a lightning rod for the right. But these numbers that you're looking at, I mean, 3/4 of Americans saying it's gotten worse, tells you Americans really perceive this time under Trump to be something different.

GREENE: So I mean, this is an important moment for any presidency, a midterm election, even though the president is not on the ballot. What kind of support does he have right now, if we use this as a snapshot?

MONTANARO: Well, it hasn't changed very much, you know? About 41 percent approve of the job that he's doing, which is kind of where it's been for the entirety of his presidency. It's historically low and could hurt Republicans in the House in particular. And, you know, on the question of who people prefer to control Congress, Democrats are leading. Among registered voters, Democrats lead by six points.

And for the first time, we had our pollsters do a, quote, "likely voter model" to see the kinds of people who might turn out. And with that, it's nine points that Democrats lead. That's a range that our pollsters say is a real, you know, warning sign for Republicans that likely means a flip of control of the House, provided everyone who says they're going to go out and vote actually do so.

GREENE: But you still see Republican candidates, even though the president's numbers aren't that great, wanting to have him come campaign and tie themselves to him.

MONTANARO: In some places, yes. I mean, he puts a lot of Republicans in a difficult position. You know, Missouri, yes. Florida, maybe not so much. Certainly in Georgia, for example. The Republican candidate there, Brian Kemp, for governor, is skipping a final debate with Democrat Stacey Abrams to campaign with President Trump this weekend. You know, Kemp is making that gamble that being with the president is more important in this traditionally conservative state.

GREENE: All right. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.