NICD Releases Civility Index of Vice Presidential Debate

Thu, 2016-10-06

National Institute for Civil Discourse Releases
Civility Index of Vice Presidential Debate
Research supports the need for NICD’s recently-released set of Debate Standards

Washington, DC—The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) today released a civility index on the vice presidential debate, concluding that both candidates fell short on civility. As it did for the first presidential debate, NICD worked with Robert Boatright, NICD Research Director and Professor of Political Science at Clark University, and Timothy Shaffer, NICD Research Associate and Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Kansas State University to have students measure incivility using a detailed research questionnaire.

In the questionnaire, respondents were asked to identify uncivil acts such as direct insults, or a refusal to answer the moderator’s questions, along with civil behaviors, such as a willingness to take responsibility for past errors, or to denounce uncivil acts taken by others. Questionnaire respondents had little trouble identifying instances where the candidates insulted each other. They also found many instances where the candidates called each other out for past uncivil statements and behavior.

Students cataloged a variety of insults, interruptions, and other uncivil behaviors on the part of both candidates. Findings include:

·         Seventy percent identified instances where Tim Kaine insulted Mike Pence, and 60 percent identified instances where Pence insulted Kaine.

·         Respondents reported they found Pence appeared less willing than Kaine to answer questions and to take responsibility for the actions of his running mate.

·         Respondents noted that Pence frequently called out Kaine for uncivil behavior, such as interruptions.

The major contrast between the vice presidential debate and the first presidential debate, however, lay in the decision of both candidates to insult someone other than their debate opponent:

·         Kaine directed most of his criticism at Donald Trump rather than at Mike Pence, and Pence directed a number of insults at Hillary Clinton.

There were also clearer partisan divisions among our respondents. The students we had coding this debate were more Republican than those who coded the first debate, and our Republican respondents were more likely to find Kaine’s comments about Trump insulting. Many Democratic respondents did not find these same comments to be uncivil. In contrast, there was substantial agreement among Democrats and Republicans on what constituted uncivil behavior in the first presidential debate.

“After the rampant incivility of the first Presidential Debate, I hoped that Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence would set a new standard of civility going forward. The research is clear and the candidate unfortunately continued the troubling trend of uncivil debates,” said Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

“Our research continues to show that this election’s debates are uncivil events, seemingly one of the few things something both Republican and Democrats agree on this election,” said Robert Boatright, NICD Research Director and Professor of Political Science at Clark University.

The NICD civility questionnaire was completed by students at two colleges and universities, chosen in order to achieve some variety in the location of the schools, the type of school, and the ideological composition of the student body. Students watched the debate together and answered questions on civility as the debate progressed. Additionally, City Clubs in Boise, Idaho and Cleveland, Ohio also distributed the questionnaire to their members. NICD expects to repeat the project in subsequent debates using other demographics and release a report after the election benchmarking this year’s debates against those of prior elections.

This research supports the need for NICD’s recently-released set of Debate Standards that, if adopted, would ensure that the debates are fair, informative, and civil. NICD has shared the standards with the Commission on Presidential Debates, presidential debate moderators, presidential campaigns, as well as moderators and candidates in statewide elections.

“Even after the uncivil presidential and vice presidential debates, I remain confident that, if the candidates and moderators follow our Debate Standards, the remaining debates can be informative sessions where Americans learn more about the candidates’ visions for America. We must revive civility. Our democracy depends on it,” said Lukensmeyer.

More than 75 organizations have already signed on to the standards, including AARP; education institutions such as the Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, the University of California Berkeley Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement and the University of Virginia Center for Politics; civic forums, such as the City Club of Cleveland and City Club of Portland; and faith organizations, such as the Faith and Politics Institute and Interfaith Alliance. A complete list can be found on NICD’s website:

NICD was formed at the University of Arizona with the goal of improving civility in our political discourse in the wake of the shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. Earlier this year, NICD launched a national campaign to #ReviveCivility.

About the National Institute for Civil Discourse:

The National Institute for Civil Discourse, is a non-profit, non-partisan institute based at the University of Arizona dedicated to addressing incivility and political dysfunction in American democracy by promoting structural and behavioral change. Informed by research, NICD’s programs are designed to create opportunities for elected officials, the media, and the public to engage different voices respectfully and take responsibility for the quality of our public discourse and effectiveness of our democratic institutions. Their National Advisory Board includes former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush; former Senators Tom Daschle and Olympia Snowe; former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Colin Powell; former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; and journalists like Katie Couric, Greta Van Susteren, NPR’s Scott Simon.