By Angela Andrews
Most Americans agree our politics have become less civil since the November elections—70 percent according to an NPR/PBS/Marist public opinion poll released this summer.
This is a problem because incivility inhibits collaboration and cooperative policy development. In addition, this same poll reveals that distrust in our public institutions remains high among adults nationally: the administration (61 percent), Congress (68 percent), elections (47 percent) and the media (68 percent).
If confidence is going to be restored in our institutions and policy solutions developed that effectively address the biggest challenges facing our communities, something needs to change to reverse the course of this trajectory. State Legislatures magazine examined the breakdown of civility in the July/August issue.
Two efforts by the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) at the University of Arizona aim to do just that.
NICD is a nonpartisan organization established in response to the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that seriously injured then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. NICD has collaborated with NCSL and several individual state legislatures.
First, the NICD Initiative to Revive Civility aims to help citizens and municipal leaders across the county restore civility in our democracy. Civility toolkits are used to facilitate listening and meaningful community conversations through discussion guides that support one-on-one conversations, small group dialogues, larger group conversations, or text messaging supported discussions that aim to engage students, in particular.
This effort challenges elected leaders to issue civility proclamations and to lead with civility. It also encourages individuals to commit to a number of actions intended to elevate public discourse by getting news from a variety of sources, listening to people with a broad range of perspectives, demonstrating respect for one another, and including a diversity of opinions in our public dialogues.
Second, NICD’s Next Generation program sponsors a workshop for state legislators entitled Building Trust Through Civil Discourse. The workshop is co-facilitated by a Democrat and a Republican state legislator and aims to help other legislators work in a collaborative, bipartisan manner and improve the level of civil discourse in their states.
To date the program has included participation from more than 500 legislators in 15 states and is increasingly being used as part of new member orientation trainings. States that have used the training report increased effectiveness in their legislative process with improved ability to develop and pass legislation with widespread support.
Angela Andrews directs NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services program.