Doctoral Dissertation Research: Political incivility is a feature, not a bug: Why mediated incivility is not bad for democracy

Project: Research project

Project Details


Incivility is an unavoidable consequence of democracy and it is not new. People have long worried about political incivility because uncivil discourse can interfere with necessary compromise amid political conflict. Further, political incivility is found to have deleterious effects in the American electorate, as it hampers political trust and potentially sharpens polarization. That said, we do not really know what people perceive as uncivil speech or inappropriate discourse. And there is much to learn about its effects. Moreover, we still cannot answer a basic question: what explains political incivility's growing presence in American politics? And is it really a problem? In this proposed research, I argue that we should expect large variation in perceptions of uncivil speech based on social and partisan identity, making clear that there is no universal rule book of what is considered uncivil and what is not. Further, in an already-completed portion of this dissertation, I find that political incivility can de-polarize; that is, people exposed to incivility from their own party subsequently feel less attached to that party. Finally, I propose that incivility actually can mobilize those exposed to it, fulfilling an important democratic function for some of the most marginalized in the electorate. Thus, quick conclusions about political incivility being bad for democracy could be overstated for three reasons: (1) there is no single agreed-upon rule book for uncivil discourse; (2) it can bring people together, even across party lines; and (3) and it can prompt an important democratic behavior in the form of political participation.
Effective start/end date3/1/208/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (SES-1938706)


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