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Conservatives and Incivility

Ashley Muddiman

Twitter rants, screaming politicians, partisan dysfunction, and the like dominate the political sphere. Every time politicians claim that a political moment is the most uncivil in history, another more uncivil event seems to occur. From a scholarly perspective, incivility is broadly a violation of cultural and social norms (Papacharissi, 2004; Muddiman, 2017). Norm violations related to political incivility range from impoliteness (Mutz, 2015), to dysfunctional argumentation (Jamieson & Hardy, 2012), to threats to the rights of others (Papacharissi, 2004), to lack of comity in our political bodies (Uslaner, 1996). Complicating matters even further, academic researchers increasingly find that political incivility is perceived differently by people with different characteristics. For instance, older people (Ben-Porath, 2008), people who are conflict avoidant (Mutz, 2015), and people who score highly in certain Big Five personality traits, like agreeableness and openness (Kenski, Coe, & Rains, 2020), are more affected by certain kinds of incivility than people without these characteristics. Importantly, perceptions of incivility—not simply the existence of uncivil behaviors—influence the effects of norm violations. People who perceive more incivility in news articles, for instance, are less likely to interact with them (Muddiman, Pond-Cobb, & Mat- son, 2020), and people who are more conflict avoidant are more likely to report lower levels of political trust when they watch incivility on television (Mutz & Reeves, 2005).

Partisanship is one variable that has not garnered much attention as scholars investigate differences in perceptions of incivility. Some researchers, most notably Entman, have claimed that the blame for incivility in the United States, at least in current years, falls at the feet of a “Republican-led undermining of American social and civic capital” (2011, p. 2). However, little has been done to empirically verify this claim, and even less research has examined whether members of the public who align with the Republican or with the Democratic Parties think about incivility in divergent ways. There is some theory that suggests Republicans may approach incivility differently than Democrats, but whether this occurs and in what direction is unclear. On one hand, research has shown that conservative talk radio and cable news cover news in extremely negative ways (Jamieson & Cappella, 2008) to the point that, in one study that examined political content in 2009, 8 out of the top 12 most outrageous news sources were conservative (Sobieraj & Berry, 2011). Perhaps, then. Republicans are either desensitized to incivility or outright attracted to it. On the other hand, conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals (Inbar, Pizarro, & Bloom, 2009), suggesting that Republicans who view violations of norms may react more strongly to them than Democrats. This chapter explores the potential differences in how Republicans and Democrats approach political incivility.

A Brief Overview of Political Incivility

Before investigating how Democrats and Republicans approach incivility, it is helpful to briefly overview the multiple ways researchers have defined incivility. As slippery as the concept of incivility has been (Maisel, 2012), researchers have made recent strides in categorizing incivility according to message tone and intensity (Gervais, 2017), name-calling and mockery (Brooks & Geer, 2007), and vulgarity (Kenski et al., 2020), among others. Such schema have helped advance scholars’ understanding of incivility, yet many of these approaches focus on types of impolite exchanges.

In the context of this chapter, I approach incivility more broadly for two reasons. First, a number of theorists (Orwin, 1992; Rawls, 1993) and empirical researchers (Papacharissi, 2004; Sobieraj & Berry, 2011; Stryker, Conway, & Danielson, 2016) argue that to capture the range of incivility, researchers should look beyond impoliteness. Additionally, a definition of incivility as social norm violations should look beyond politeness norms, especially when studying political elites. Impoliteness among political leaders can affect the public (Mutz, 2015), but there are many other norms political leaders are expected to follow, including rules of debate in the House of Representatives (Jamieson, 1998), democratic norms about the appropriate use of power (Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2018), and reciprocity norms among congressional colleagues (Uslaner, 1996) and others that have little to do with politeness. A study examining incivility should address multiple approaches to incivility.

At one level, researchers approach incivility as violations of politeness norms (Mutz, 2015). Based largely on politeness theory (Brown & Levinson, 1987), incivility from this perspective involves messages and behaviors that threaten a person s “face” or self-esteem. Scholars in this tradition test name-calling, mockery, heightened emotional exchanges, interruptions, swearing, and other face- threatening actions in the context of political television (Mutz, 2015), campaigns and attack ads (Brooks & Geer, 2007), and, lately, online settings (Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014; Gervais, 2017; Kenski et al., 2020). Many previous categorizations of incivility have focused on such violations of politeness norms—what I call personal-level incivility (Muddiman, 2017). This is particularly the case for projects that center on textual, online incivility, when researchers are interested in violations of politeness norms in quasi-interpersonal exchanges (Gervais, 2017)

However important personal-level incivility is, it is also too narrow when considering the broader interactions among political elites. Papacharissi (2004) argues that impoliteness alone does not raise an exchange to the level of incivility. Instead, some scholars link civility, incivility; and citizenship itself. The word civility, for instance, comes from Latin words for city and citizen (Dav- etian, 2009), suggesting that violations of civility' norms should link to citizenship rather than to interpersonal moments of impoliteness. Scholars who have approached incivility in this broader manner tend to point to violations of norms related to political and deliberative processes, for instance dysfunctional governance and lack of reciprocity (Uslaner, 1996), discrimination and threats to civil rights (Papacharissi, 2004), Iwperbole, misinformation, and violating argumentation rules ([amieson & Hardy; 2012; Rawls, 1993). I categorize these broader approaches as a public-level of incivility (Muddiman, 2017).

In the remainder of this chapter, I test whether Republicans and Democrats approach incivility in similar or different ways. Evaluating whether Republicans and Democrats react differently to multiple ty'pes of incivility' is particularly useful. Given the variety of approaches to incivility; Republicans and Democrats may have different perspectives on personal- and public-level incivility. If, alternatively; individuals react similarly to a variety' of uncivil situations, then scholars can be fairly confident that partisan individuals do not actually differ in their thoughts about political elites who behave uncivilly. I test differences between partisans in two ways. First, I examine the types of incivility that are top of mind to Republicans and Democrats. Second, I investigate whether Democrats and Republicans react similarly when they are exposed to political incivility.

Top-of-Mind Incivility

One test of whether Republicans and Democrats perceive incivility differently is simply asking them to produce examples of what they consider to be uncivil. In studies conducted in May 2015 and in March/April 2018 I did just that. In both surveys, I reached out to U.S. residents. Respondents were recruited for both studies through Research Now (formerly Survey Sample International) and were matched to the demographic characteristics of the Internet using population at the time of each study; as received from the Pew Research Center. I asked them the following question: “Many politicians, media figures, academics, and others have talked about incivility lately; Please provide one example of what you considered to be uncivil behavior enacted by a politician?” Respondents were able to type an open-ended response to this question, and then they were prompted to provide a second example if they could think of one.

With two research assistants, I categorized the open-ended responses according to both theoretically derived types of incivility described in the previous section (personal level and public level), as well as other categories that arose inductively from the responses (criminal/immoral incivility and examples mentioning issues and partisan figures). Each of these categories is described in more detail. We reached acceptable reliability for all codes in both studies—2015 survey: personal level, Krippcndortfs a = 0.84; public level, a = 0.80; criminality/illegality, a = 0.77; issue/partisan examples, a = 0.80; 2018 survey: public level (a = 0.84), personal level (a = 0.74), immoral/criminal (a = 0.77), issue (a = 0.70), leftleaning partisan (a = 0.76), and right-leaning partisan (a = 0.83). These two surveys allow investigation of whether Democrats and Republicans think of different communications and behaviors when they consider political incivility.

2015 and President Obama's Administration

In May 2015, during the presidency of Barack Obama and before Donald Trump launched his campaign for the presidency (Altman & Alter, 2015), I reached out to the public to ask individuals their thoughts about political incivility. Specifically, I recruited 1,042 U.S. residents and asked for examples of political incivility. This dataset is an ideal one for investigating differences between Republicans and Democrats. If Republicans and Democrats approach incivility differently, they should describe different types of incivility and mention different people in their examples. Further, many respondents identified as strong or weak Democrats (n = 518; 50% of the sample) or as strong or weak Republicans (n = 339; 33% of the sample), providing plenty of examples for analysis. In this section, I test whether Democrats and Republicans mentioned different types of incivility in their examples.

An overview of all results is a helpful first step before disaggregating the results by party. In the 2015 survey, four categories of examples are ofinterest. First, 21% of all respondents provided examples related to personal-level incivility, emphasizing name-calling (e.g., “Harry Reid calling ranchers terrorists”), emotional reactions (e.g., “Screaming and yelling at one another in [s/Vj television”), profanity (e.g., “Swearing in public”), and general rudeness (e.g., “being disrespectful to the president”). Second, 61% of all respondents mentioned public-level incivility in their examples, describing dysfunctional governance (e.g., “Gridlock by Republican House members and Senators”), discrimination (e.g., “Backstab- bing minorities”), deception (e.g., “Empty promises”), threats to democracy (e.g., “Treason”), and other behaviors related to norms of citizenship rather than norms of politeness. Beyond the theoretically expected incivility examples above, respondents also mentioned two inductively generated categories. A third pattern is that twenty-seven percent of all respondents mentioned immoral/criminal incivility, describing activities such as acting violently, having an extramarital affair, or doing drugs. Finally, a fourth trend is that 17% of all respondents included issue or partisan information in their examples, for instance mentioning some political issue (e.g., “Benghazi”) or partisan individual or group (e.g., “John Boehner”and “Obama”).

Beginning with personal-level incivility, Democrats provided more examples related to violations of politeness norms than Republicans. A chi-square test indicated a significant difference between the groups, X2(df = 1) = 8.24, p < .01 . Twenty-four percent of Democrats provided an example related to impoliteness compared to only 18% of Republicans.

Breaking this down further into different types of impoliteness adds interesting insight. Democrats and Republicans were equally likely to provide an example of incivility related to name-calling, profanity, and emotional exchanges. Chi- square tests indicated no differences between Republicans and Democrats for these types of examples [name-calling: 2(df = 1) = 1.15, p = .28; profanity: 2(df = 1) = 2.23.p = .14; heightened emotion: x2{df = 1) = 0.50,p = .48].

There was, however, one type of impoliteness that was significantly more likely to be mentioned by a Democrat than a Republican: general rudeness and disrespect [chi-square tests indicated a significant difference between groups, 2(df = 1) = 8.24. p < .011. Although some examples of rudeness provided by Democrats were nonpartisan (e.g., “laughing at someone while they are talking”), others involved Republican politicians who the respondents believed were disrespecting President Obama. For instance, one respondent who identified as a Democrat provided the example, “John Boehner being disrepectful [sic] to the President.” Another Democratic respondent wrote, “The Congressman from South Carolina who heckled the President during a presidential address of Congress. In this case, politics should be secondary to respect for the office of president, especially by a member of congress.” It appears that these examples of rudeness and disrespect drove the differences between Democrats and Republicans. That said, the overall number of respondents who mentioned this type of incivility was quite low: only 56 out of 857 partisan respondents mentioned general disrespect in their examples. More specifically, 8.5% of Democrats mentioned rudeness, and only 3.5% of Republicans did the same. The difference between the parties was significant but still rather small.

Next, I examined whether Republicans or Democrats were more likely to think about incivility as a violation of a broader political norm than impoliteness. Generally, Republicans (64% of respondents) and Democrats (61%) listed public-level incivility in their examples at similar rates. Chi-square tests showed no significant differences between Democrats and Republicans related to their examples of violations of political process norms [x2(df = 1) = 0.73. p = .39J and no significant differences across most of the reliable subcategories of this type of incivility, including abuse of money [x2(df = 1) = 1.21, p = .27] and discrimination [ x2{d} = 1) = 2.32, p = .13].

Lying, misuse of public funds, and discrimination were particularly popular examples of incivility generated by members of both parties. Respondents, for instance, mentioned activities like “lying about what he or she will try to get done,” “lieing [sic | about everything,” “stealing money,” “paying people for votes,” “Being a racist bigot and religious zealot,” and “Voting choices made for personal gain.” These examples do not cover all types of incivility related to public-level incivility, but they provide a picture of the types of activities both Republicans and Democrats find unacceptable.

There were, however, two minor types of public-level norm violations that Republicans were statistically more likely to mention than Democrats. A chi- square test indicated that Republicans provided significantly more examples of political correctness [x2{df = 1) = 10.76,p < .01] and group action [X2(df = 1) = 12.08, p < .001] than Democrats. Four percent (« = 15) of Republicans mentioned that referring to racial tensions was inappropriate in political settings compared to only 1% (/) = 5) of Democrats. One respondent wrote, for instance, “causing racial tension/divide to perpetuate one’s own gain politically” and another wrote, “The president . . . constantly lying especially about race.” Additionally, 5% (и = 16) of Republican respondents provided examples related to protests, mobs, and “rioting” compared to only 1% (« = 5) of Democrats. One respondent suggested that a politician “apearing [sir] at riots speaking against authority” was uncivil. Democrats were less likely to provide examples related to either of these categories. Like the difference in personal-level incivility examples mentioned previously, these types of examples were very infrequent in the dataset. There were only 20 respondents in the entire dataset who mentioned either using the race card or participating in protest as examples of incivility. These respondents were significantly more likely to be Republicans than Democrats, but there were still very few people who considered these types of behaviors as examples of incivility.

Other than these slight differences between Democrats and Republicans, no other disparities appeared between partisans from the two parties. There were no significant differences between Republicans and Democrats in the rates at which they provided immoral/criminal examples. Chi-square tests uncovered no significant differences in immoral/criminal examples [ у2(df = 1) = 0.53. p = .47] or partisan/issue examples | /2(c// = 1) = 2.03. p = .15] between Democrats and Republicans. Respondents from both parties provided examples related to politicians’ immoral and criminal behaviors, ranging from “infidelity” and “hiring prostitutes” to “drug use” and “being drunk.” Partisans on both sides also mentioned partisan politicians and issues in their examples. For instance, former President Bill Clinton and White House Intern Monica Lewinsky made frequent appearances in respondents’ examples, as did former Governor Chris Christie’s (R-NJ) decision to shut down a bridge in New Jersey. Sometimes, respondents mentioned issues or partisans alone, with no detail about what made those issues or partisans uncivil, for instance “homelessness,” “Interfering with a woman’s right to choice and control over her own body (i.e., attempting to ban abortion, preventing easy access to birth control, etc.),” “hilary [sic] clinton Benghazi,” and “Anything out of the mouth of a demacrat [sic]” Although the specific examples were different, Democrats and Republicans were equally likely to provide examples of immorality, criminally, and partisan incivility.

In sum, there were very few differences in the type of interactions and behaviors that Democrats and Republicans considered uncivil. The differences that did appear were limited. Further, some of the differences may be time and context dependent. For instance, Democrats produced slightly more examples related to impoliteness in part because they viewed some Republican actions as disrespectful to President Obama. It may be that Republicans do the same when there is a president from their own party.

2018 and President Trump's Administration

Fortunately, I collected a similar dataset in March/April 2018, meaning that I can explore whether the differences that appeared in 2015 are consistent over time or whether the examples provided by Democrats and Republicans change based on the context. A study conducted in 2018 is particularly useful because it allows me to compare examples provided under the Democratic presidential administration of Barack Obama and the Republican presidential administration of Donald Trump. Eight hundred ninety-two individuals participated in the second study, with 331 (37%) respondents identifying as strong or weak Republicans and 405 (45%) respondents identifying as strong or weak Democrats. Once again, they were prompted to provide examples of uncivil behavior of a politician, and once again, I worked with a research assistant to code the open-ended responses provided by respondents. I examined the same types of examples as in the 2015 survey—personal-level incivility (21% of respondents), public-level incivility (41%), and immoral/criminal (19%). I added three additional codes in the 2018 survey to better capture details related to partisan examples—examples that mentioned at least one political issue (8%), examples that mentioned a left-leaning political figure or group behaving uncivilly (7%), and examples that mentioned a right-leaning political figure or group behaving uncivilly (26%).

Did Republicans and Democrats differ on the types of examples provided in this newer dataset? In the 2018 dataset, there was again a difference in the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who provided examples of personal-level incivility, but this time Republicans provided more personal-level incivility examples than Democrats. A chi-square test indicated a significant difference between the Democrats and Republicans on personal-level incivility, 2(df = 1) = 4.20. p < .05 This time, the difference was driven by differences in mentions of profanity. A chi-square test indicated a significant difference between the Democrats and Republicans on profanity, y2(d/ = 1) = 0.16. p < .01. Chi-square tests indicated no significant differences for other types ofpersonal-level incivility, including name-calling [ 2(df = 1) = 0.63. p = .43 I and emotional displays [ x2(df = 1) = 0.45, p = .50]. A larger percentage of Republican respondents (6%) provided an example of profanity (e.g., “swearing,” “cursing,” and “using profane language”) than Democratic respondents (2%). However, the overall percentage of respondents providing an example of profanity was quite small—only 4% (n = 28) of all respondents mentioned profanity—so the difference between Republicans and Democrats on this type of incivility was small as well.

Again supporting the results from the 2015 study, there was no significant difference between Republicans and Democrats in their responses related to public- level incivility. Digging deeper into the examples mentioned in 2018, there were again very few examples of respondents mentioning inappropriate use of race and participation in protest—so few examples in fact that we were unable to test inter-coder reliability. A qualitative examination of these examples does uncover some differences between the Democrats and Republicans, however. Only 14 partisans mentioned participation in protest as being uncivil. Democrats who mentioned protest, for instance, largely explained that the reactions to a protest were uncivil (e.g., “Charlottesville VA Protest with President saying there were good people on both sides” and “Santorum telling protesting school children to learn CPR instead of protesting lax gun laws”). Alternatively, Republicans who mentioned protest perceived the protests themselves as uncivil (e.g., “BLM rioting,” “marching on a work day” and “Demonstrations”). Further, only four partisans mentioned inappropriate use of race as being uncivil (e.g., “calling a person a racist”), and three of those partisans were Republicans.

Finally, I examine the issue and partisan examples from Republicans and Democrats. Because my coder and I were able to separate out three issues and partisan codes—one related to mentions of political issues, one related to mentions of left-leaning political figures or groups behaving uncivilly, and one related to mentions of right-leaning political figures or groups behaving uncivilly—the results for these codes were different than the results from the 2015 survey. For instance, Democrats were more likely to mention political issues (e.g., “gun culture,” “building a border wall,” and “job cuts”) in their responses than Republicans. A chi-square test indicated a significant difference between the Democrats and Republicans on examples that mentioned issues, x2(df = 1) = 4.82. p < .05 . Further, and perhaps unsurprisingly, respondents who identified as Democrats were more likely to describe a right-leaning political figure behaving uncivilly compared to Republicans (e.g., “Donald Trump” and “Everything an GOP politician says or does”). Respondents who identified as Republicans were more likely to describe a left-leaning political figure behaving uncivilly compared to Democrats (e.g., “Biden threatening our President” and “Maxine Waters constantly deriding the POTUS”). Two chi-square tests indicated significant differences between the Democrats and Republicans on examples that mentioned left-leaning partisans, 2(df = 1) = 29.96. p < .001, and examples that mentioned right-leaning partisans, y2(d/ = 1) = 45.63. p < .001 Overall, partisans from either party were likely to present members of the other party as uncivil.

Top-of-Mind Incivility Conclusions

What might the results from these two studies mean? There are three main takeaways. First, in general, Republicans and Democrats provided very similar examples of incivility. Partisans from both parties approach incivility as activities like name-calling, deception, threats to democratic governance, and immoral behaviors. Second, there were some slight differences between the parties; however, some remained consistent in 2015 and 2018 and some flipped across studies. In both studies, Republicans offered more examples related to opposing protests and using the race card, suggesting that these approaches to incivility are more closely related to Republicans than Democrats. Yet another difference that appeared in 2015—that Democrats presented more examples related to impoliteness—flipped in 2018 when Republicans presented more examples related to impoliteness. Perhaps critical scholars are on to something when they argue that norms of politeness and civility are written by those in power (e.g., Lozano-Reich & Cloud, 2009). When a Democrat held the White House, Democrats wanted more politeness from those out of power, whereas when a Republican held the White House, Republicans wanted more politeness. Finally, even though the surveys showed very few differences in the types of incivility Republicans and Democrats provided, they both demonstrated that the examples themselves were partisan. Democrats tended to mention examples of Republicans behaving badly and Republicans tended to mention examples of Democrats behaving badly. This finding adds to the mounting evidence that incivility is perceived in a partisan manner (Muddiman, 2017; Mutz, 2015). So even though partisans provided similar types of incivility in their examples, who they described as uncivil differed.

Reactions to Incivility

Although the previous tests indicated that, generally, Republicans and Democrats produced similar examples of incivility, they did not demonstrate whether, when exposed to the same norm violating behaviors, Republicans and Democrats react similarly to them as well. In the following sections, I draw from a series of experiments to determine whether partisans (1) perceive the same uncivil behaviors in different ways and (2) engage differently with uncivil news.

Differences in Incivility Perceptions

To test the effects of exposure to incivility, I draw from two experiments in which individuals read and rated descriptions of political interactions. In this section,

I use two experimental datasets: one collected in 2013 and one in 2015. Two hundred fifty-eight participants were recruited for the 2013 experiment through Mechanical Turk and 1,024 participants were recruited through Research Now for the 2015 experiment (see Muddiman, 2017).

In both of these studies, participants read 24 brief descriptions of political and media figures engaging in some behavior. Most of the statements described politicians violating some personal- or public-level norm—including namecalling, using profanity, refusing to compromise, and spreading misinformation (e.g., “The host of a partisan political news show recently said, ‘damn the political opposition”’)—and a few of the statements describe civil interactions for contrast—including politicians talking to each other respectfully (e.g., “A U.S. Senator said that there are some reasonable, moderate politicians from the opposing party in Congress.”). Additionally, one-third of the participants viewed Republicans and conservatives engaging in these actions, one-third viewed Democrats and liberals, and one-third viewed political figures whose partisanship was not mentioned. By varying the type of behaviors participants viewed, I can determine whether Republicans and Democrats react ditferently to different types of incivility. By varying the partisanship of the person engaging in those behaviors, I can determine whether Republicans and Democrats react differently when they see their own in-group party behaving badly rather than the outgroup party behaving badly.

There are two differences between the 2013 and 2015 experiments to note. First, the sample size in the second study is larger than the first, meaning that there is more power to determine differences between Democrats and Republicans in the second experiment. The first experiment included 258 participants, with 152 (59%) of those participants identifying as either strong or weak Democrats and 57 (22%) of those participants identifying as either strong or weak Republicans. Alternatively, the second experiment included 857 participants, with 518 (50%) of participants identifying as strong or weak Democrats and 339 (33%) of participants identifying as strong or weak Republicans. A second strength of the second experiment is the clarity of the examples of norm violations to which participants were exposed. The first experiment described both lawmakers (e.g., Former Speaker of the U.S. Flouse of Representatives, John Boehner[R-OH|) and political media figures (e.g., MSNBC show host Rachel Maddow) in the examples provided to participants, whereas the second experiment focused only on congressional lawmakers to ensure that the role of a political actor in an example of incivility did not influence participants’reactions. In all, the second study is a larger, cleaner test, but it is still useful to overview both experiments to determine whether similar results appear in more than one study.

First, I examine whether Democrats and Republicans react differently to personal-level incivility examples, public-level incivility examples, and civility examples. The answer here is no. In both studies, Democrats and Republicans perceived an equal amount of incivility no matter the type of interaction they rated. For both experiments, I ran a repeated measures ANOVA where party identification (1 = Republican and 2 = Democrat) predicted the repeated measures outcome variable of incivility perceptions for varying types of interactions (personal level, public level, and civil). Party ID was not significant in

Democrats and Republicans’ Perceptions of Incivility for Personal-Level Incivility, Public-Level Incivility, and Civil Interactions

FIGURE 7.1 Democrats and Republicans’ Perceptions of Incivility for Personal-Level Incivility, Public-Level Incivility, and Civil Interactions

Study 1, F(1206) = .566, p = .45, partial-eta2 = .003, nor was the interaction between party ID and type of incivility, F(1.56, 321.82) = 0.99, p = .36, partial- eta2 = .005; Party ID was also not significant in Study 2, F(1841) = .15, p = .70, partial-eta2 = .0001, nor was the interaction between party ID and type of incivility, F(1.34,1167.45) = .57, p = .50, partial-eta2 = .001 (see Figure 7.1).

Perhaps, however, Republicans and Democrats react differently when they view members of their in-group and out-group parties engaging in uncivil behaviors. To test this possibility, I split each dataset into two: one for the subset of participants who identified as Democrats and one for the subset of participants who identified as Republicans. I then looked at how each group responded when they viewed members of their in-group party, members of the out-group party, and political figures whose partisanship was not mentioned. In general, I found that Republicans and Democrats responded similarly. For Democrats and Republicans in both studies, in-group partisans were perceived as significantly less uncivil than out-group partisans. A set of repeated-measures ANOVA tests were run for both experiments, here with group membership (rating in-group, outgroup, or unclear partisanship) and types of incivility as the independent variables, and, again, perceptions of incivility as the repeated-measure-dependent variable. The main effect of group membership was significant for Democrats [Study 1: F(2147) = 12.40, p < .001, partial-eta2 = .14; Study 2: F(2, 509) = 36.22, p < .001, partial-eta2 = . 13J and Republicans [Study 1: F(2,54) = 6.75, p < .01, partial-eta2 = .20; Study 2: F(2328) = 27.20, p < .001, partial-eta2 = .14].

The next question, then, is whether Democrats and Republicans continued to react similarly to in-group and out-group partisans when the type of incivility was taken into account. The answer, again, was yes. Rather than discuss every significant difference here, it is more instructive to look at the overall pattern

Democrats and Republicans’ Reactions to Different Types of Incivility

FIGURE 7.2 Democrats and Republicans’ Reactions to Different Types of Incivility

Note. Matching letters indicate a significant difference between the groups at p < .05. Only the data from Study 2 are included in the chart.

of incivility perceptions across the partisan groups (see Figure 7.2). In general, personal-level incivility was perceived as most uncivil, followed by public-level incivility, with civility trailing far behind. Within each type of incivility, out-group partisans were perceived as most uncivil and in-group partisans were perceived as least uncivil. This applied to Democratic participants in both experiments and to Republican participants in the second experiment. These results refer to the coefficient interacting group membership and type of incivility. For Democrats, the interaction was significant for both studies [Study 1: F(3.20, 235.19) = 5.55, p < .01, partial-eta2 = .07; Study 2: F(2.65, 674.22) = 4.59, p < .01, partial- eta2 = .02]. For Republicans, the interaction was not significant for Study 1 [Study 1: F(3.04, 82.00) = 1.43, p = .24, partial-eta2 = .051 but was significant in Study 2 [F(2.66, 436.06) = 3.03, p < .05, partial-eta2 = .02]. Overall, the pattern of incivility perceptions was similar for Democrats and Republicans.

In sum, Republicans and Democrats presented with the exact same examples of political behavior generally perceive uncivil behaviors similarly.

Engaging with Uncivil News

The experiments overviewed previously suggest that Republicans and Democrats perceive similar levels of incivility when they are exposed to norm- violating interactions. One final way to test the effects of incivility on partisans is to examine whether they are differently attracted to incivility in the news. Specifically, the last part of this chapter will examine whether Republicans and Democrats have different preferences when it comes to choosing to read about political incivility. Are Republicans, given their tendency to watch cable news and listen to talk radio that often amplifies uncivil content (Jamieson & Cap- pella, 2008; Sobieraj & Berry, 2011), more likely to seek out news that emphasizes incivility?

I conducted a quasi-experiment in August 2014 that can help answer this question. In this study, 384 participants browsed a news website I created with the help of another research assistant. The site included a series of news stories about Congress. Some of the news articles emphasized civility, some emphasized personal-level incivility among lawmakers, some emphasized public-level incivility among lawmakers, and some emphasized both personal-level and public-level incivility The news stories were presented in a random order to each participant. By creating a working website, I was able to track where people clicked. I examined this click data to investigate whether Republicans were more likely to click on uncivil news than Democrats.

When all participants were analyzed together, the results indicated that civil news stories were most attractive to participants, at least compared to headlines that included both types of incivility (Muddiman et al., 2020). When the Democratic and Republican participants were examined separately, a similar pattern occurred (see Figure 7.3). Participants, on average, clicked more often on news stories depicting civil interactions among lawmakers and they clicked least on the news stories depicting both types of incivility. Notably, however, these differences were no longer significant when partisans were analyzed separately, especially for the Republicans. A repeated-measures ANOVA predicting the average number of clicks on each type of news article (civil, personal-level incivility, public-level incivility, and both personal- and public-level incivility) was run once on participants who identified as Republicans and once on participants who identified as Democrats. Neither model was significant, though the Democrat model was marginally significant: Republicans: F(2.87, 418.64) = 1.09, p = .35; Democrats: F(2.97, 701.10) = 2.17, p = .09.

Mean Number of Clicks on Articles by Republicans and Democrats

FIGURE 7.3 Mean Number of Clicks on Articles by Republicans and Democrats

This finding could be due to the reduced sample size produced by splitting the data into partisan groups, though more research is necessary to ensure that the results hold when more participants are included in a study. The general pattern of attraction to civil news and avoidance of the most uncivil news did seem to appear in both the Democratic and Republican datasets. It did not appear that there was a substantial diiference in how the Democrats and Republicans engaged with news content covering political incivility.

Reactions to Incivility Conclusions

The experiments overviewed in this section otfer a relatively consistent conclusion: From a macro-level perspective, Democrats and Republicans react to incivility in similar ways. Partisans from both parties largely perceived personal-level incivility as more uncivil than public-level incivility, and they largely gravitated toward civil news compared to news that included both personal- and public-level incivility. Notably, the studies discussed here included fewer Republicans than Democrats, decreasing the statistical power of the tests. Thus, in some cases, the patterns of results were similar between Democrats and Republicans, but the tests were only statistically significant for the Democratic participants. Future studies need to re-test these effects with larger Republican sample sizes to make sure that the similarities in patterns are statistically supported. It is possible, for instance, that the final experiment found no differences in clicks for Republicans simply because they are not repelled by incivility while Democrats are. The rest of the data in this chapter suggest this is not the case, but more research is necessary to fully support that argument.

Discussion and Conclusion

There are not many differences in how Democrats and Republicans think about and react to political incivility, at least according to the studies overviewed here. Other than a few very infrequent types of incivility, Republicans and Democrats provided similar types of incivility when prompted to give examples of uncivil political behaviors. When rating the exact same examples of norm violations provided by researchers, Democrats and Republicans largely perceived personal- level norm violations as most uncivil, followed by public-level norm violations. Though the sample sizes may have been too small to find significant results at times, Republicans and Democrats seemed to be similarly drawn to civility in the news rather than incivility. Finally, multiple studies discussed in this chapter did indicate that partisanship played a role in reactions to incivility—but that role was similar across Democrats and Republicans. Individuals who identified with either party tended to provide partisan examples of incivility and to perceive incivility from their out-group party as more uncivil than incivility from their in-group.

These studies have a few limitations to note. As already mentioned, the experimental projects had small samples of Republicans. Larger samples should be used to further test the findings described here. Additionally, the survey studies suggest that there is some shifting in how Democrats and Republicans approach incivility over time and context. This finding suggests that more research needs to take the context of incivility into account, meaning that the effects of the studies outlined in this chapter must be replicated over time and with different political issues to determine whether the effects are consistent or context dependent. Finally, the current project examines how members of the public think about and react to incivility. Just because Republicans and Democrats react to incivility in largely similar ways does not mean that political elites from the two parties use incivility in similar ways. Other scholars should examine how political leaders use incivility, figure out which types of incivility those partisan leaders use most, and investigate how individual partisans react to those partisan elites.

Finding that Republicans and Democrats approach incivility in largely similar ways is, however, important theoretically and normatively. Theoretically, scholars need to study how individual and group differences affect the public’s understanding of incivility. Other projects have found differences related to psychological (e.g., Kenski et al., 2020; Mutz, 2015) and demographic variables (Ben-Porath, 2008; Brooks, 2010). But the studies outlined in this chapter suggest that party identification alone may not be enough to change how individuals perceive incivility. There may be underlying characteristics related to partisanship, like moral foundations (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009) or disgust (Inbar et al., 2009), that may still be connected to reactions to incivility. It does appear, however, that partisanship alone does not have a substantial effect on how individuals react to politicians behaving uncivilly.

Additionally, the approach to incivility as both a personal-level and a public- level norm violation (see Papacharissi, 2004; Muddinran, 2017) was validated further in this chapter. Democrats and Republicans both appear to provide examples of these types of incivility. To both groups of partisans, incivility included name-calling and emotional reactions (personal level) as well as governmental dysfunction, discrimination, and lying (public level). When there were differences among the Democrats and Republicans, the differences were quite small and did not challenge the overall categorization of incivility. Some of the differences— particularly those related to impoliteness—seem to be connected to the partisan context in which the public was asked to provide incivility examples. In 2015 under a Democratic president, Democrats wanted more politeness from Republicans, but the opposite pattern occurred in 2018 under a Republican president. In sum, Democrats and Republicans considered both personal- and public-level norm violations to be uncivil, though the different types of incivility may be top of mind in different contexts.

A final theoretical contribution of this chapter is the consistent finding that partisanship in general did affect how individuals approached incivility. When asked to provide examples of incivility, partisans often provided examples of their out-group political party behaving badly. Republicans cited Hillary Clinton; Democrats cited Donald Trump. When reacting to descriptions of norm violating interactions, partisans from both parties viewed members of the other party as most uncivil no matter the type of incivility. These findings add to the mounting evidence that perceptions of incivility are amplified by partisanship (Muddiman, 2017; Mutz, 2015; Thorson, Vraga, & Ekdale, 2010).

The results overviewed in this chapter have normative consequences as well. On one hand, both Democrats and Republicans think that the other party is to blame for uncivil behavior. This may be yet another signal of affective polarization among partisans (Iyengar, Sood, & Lelkes, 2012). Given the partisan frame through which even individual partisans consider incivility, agreeing on interpersonal and procedural norms in the context of politics seems unlikely On the other hand, it is promising that Democrats and Republicans largely agree on the types of interactions and behaviors that are out of bounds in U.S. politics. If they cannot agree on policy perhaps this means that individuals can agree on process—if only they can think of incivility and norm violations through a lens other than partisanship.

Discussion Questions

  • 1. The differences between Democrats and Republicans overviewed in this chapter are quite few. In your opinion, are the differences that do exist substantial enough to say Democrats and Republicans approach incivility differently? Or are these differences minor enough to suggest that partisans think about incivility similarly?
  • 2. The results of the studies suggest that partisans react most negatively to incivility enacted by political figures from their out-group party. What are the implications of this consistent finding?
  • 3. Other chapters in this book reference differences in Republican and Democratic elites, whereas this chapter examines individuals who identify as Republicans or Democrats. To what extent might elite Republicans and Democrats use incivility differently?


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