Civility in America, a new poll by Weber Shandwick/Powell Tate Research, offers real hope for the future of civil behavior in our country. The poll takes the temperature of today's generations and finds that Millennial's, those born during the two decades book-ended by the optimism of Ronald Reagan's presidency and September 11, 2001 attacks, believe our future holds the prospect for more, not less, civil behavior.
The poll found that the 83 million-strong millennial generation, which outnumbers Baby Boomers by more than 7 million, are most hopeful about the future of civility. Nearly one in four Millennials believe civility will improve over the next few years, two to four times the percentage of other generations.
Millennials are a generation that has seen it all politically, and not surprisingly but unfortunately, accept incivility in politics as the norm, significantly more than other generations.
The earliest millennials were born during the "malaise" of the American people in the early 1980s -- the word used by then President Jimmy Carter that was a factor in Carter's landslide loss to Ronald Reagan. They toddled their way through the boom economies of the '90s, and entered puberty with President Bill Clinton. To Millennials, it was commonplace for a president to be impeached, to read about the salacious details of a president's sex life but also to see women on the U.S. Supreme Court. And all this before many of them were legally able to vote.
Another huge factor in Millennials' lives has been the Internet and social media. Connections on-line have been a reality in their lives. According to the survey, 56 percent of Millennials say the Internet and social media are making civility worse. But they are also the generation more likely to not just sit back and let the incivility go. Thirty-three percent report taking proactive measures against things like cyber-bullying and other uncivil behavior.
Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe published in 2000 the book, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. While they had their naysayers, those who claimed Millennials also suffer from unhealthy doses of self-centeredness, the new poll syncs with the findings of Strauss and Howe.
As one whose work every day focuses on civil and uncivil behavior in our nation, this poll offers hope. The Millennials have lived through economic booms and busts. They have watched political leaders of all stripes rise and fall, and they have spent an enormous percentage of their time sending emails and friending on Facebook. Civility, they have shown us, can be strengthened in the face of so many challenges. This generation of 83 million individuals know that it is up to all of us to choose a more civil future.