Survey shows civility a growing concern for Americans

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Provo Mayor John Curtis addresses community members regarding ways to volunteer with refugee efforts. Curtis recently addressed Provo and Utah residents about civility in public dialogue via an open letter published on the Provo Insider website. (Natalie Stoker)

Seventy-four percent of Americans believe civility is declining in the U.S., according to a poll from communications firm Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate conducted earlier this year.

BYU College Democrats club secretary Ben Bay said he believes the decline in civility reflects the behavior of the country’s current leaders.

“Followers tend to imitate characteristics of their leaders,” Bay said. “So when a leader is uncivil, his or her followers internalize that and take it as an excuse to be uncivil themselves.”

Bay said one way to restore civility is to support leaders who are good examples.

“Civility in politics is important because political candidates are potentially powerful leaders and examples to millions of people,” Bay said. “As voters, we can increase civility by refusing to support uncivil candidates.”

Utah County Republican precinct chair Tom Roberts believes media attention has exaggerated the decline in civility to be worse than it really is.

“I think there’s always been contested races and arguments between two strong ideas,” Roberts said. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily worse than it was before in the past.”

Provo Mayor John Curtis published an “Open Letter to Provo and Utah Residents” on Sept. 3, 2016, in response to the perceived decline in civility.

“Like a sewer leak deep beneath the surface, I feel a coarseness invading so many aspects of our lives,” Curtis wrote in the letter. “In the years of being mayor, I can strongly say this surge of negativity is not normal for our community.”

Curtis said he believes the presidential election is causing this coarseness.

“My theory — and it’s only a theory — is that . . . it’s impacting the way people in our community are responding and causing this negativity to be exasperated,” Curtis said.

Curtis said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the response to his letter.

“It was read by more people than I could have ever guessed and the attention it got has far exceeded what I expected,” Curtis said. “One individual told me about how he now treats telemarketers better and different than he did before, and so I believe that it’s had an impact, although small, on people and that pleases me.”

Because of the response to the letter, Curtis said he feels a renewed commitment to be civil.

“More than anything, I’m hoping to be a good example myself,” Curtis said. “I’m not perfect, and I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes, but this has given me a solidified commitment to be better.”

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