“I pledge to choose civility when campaigning and while serving in office.
- I will focus on issues and civil debate.
- I will not engage in name calling or personal attacks on the candidate or their family.
- I will avoid attack ads whenever possible.”
About the Pledge of Civility
What is the pledge and how do we define civility?
The Pledge of Civility is designed to lower political hostility in this country with an audited pledge from our future politicians and political staffers.
It’s important that candidates can speak freely about issues and debate openly with their opponents. Our focus is on language that is depolarizing, based on our research.
- positive language
- avoiding attack ads
- no name calling and no personal attacks on the candidate or their family
What is partisan animosity and why should we care?
Partisan animosity in America has been steadily rising since the 1980s, and affective polarization–the difference between one’s feeling toward the in-party versus the out-party–is staying high and steady over time. Data from the Polarization Research Lab show that feelings toward the two parties clarifies the overall lack of movement on affective polarization. Although there are small shifts in affective polarization, the out-party never comes close to the threshold for positive feeling (51), and the in-party never dips into negative territory. In other words, we are just observing differing levels of hate and not fluctuation between positive and negative feelings for the two parties.
Concerningly, political polarization is entering all aspects of citizen’s lives (Druckman et al., 2020) including: discrimination against job applicants (Gift and Gift, 2015), prospective romantic partners (Huber and Malhotra, 2017), work colleagues (Lelkes and Westwood, 2017; McConnell et al., 2018), and even competitions for academic scholarships (for review, see Iyengar et al., 2019). It has become clear that this degree of commitment to a political party has implications for the effectiveness of democratic governance and the overall wellness of civil society.
Why focus on political elites?
The Pledge of Civility draws on political science research showing that elite hostility and negative campaigning cause citizens to become more negative (Iyengar et al., 2019). Most alarmingly, political conflict among elective officials not only causes average citizens to dislike the other side, but it skews behavior in entirely apolitical realms (dating, hiring medical care, etc.).
Fundamentally, it is not clear that there are any major electoral benefits from negative campaigning. Negative campaigning is largely ineffective (Lau and Rovner 2009), or impacts voter turnout only at the margins (e.g., Krupnikov 2011). By running a positive campaign, candidates signal to voters that the out-party is not deserving of hate and candidates can focus on political issues.
Our hope is that this commitment to positive campaigning can help to reduce partisan animosity in America.
How will the Lab track who signs?
The Lab will keep a running list of signatories on our public facing website. We will provide information about state, party and elections. We monitor the political rhetoric of all elected officials (those who sign the pledge and those who do not). We will make these data public so that individual citizens can track how their elected officials contribute to partisan hostility. While we hope signatories keep their commitments, PRL will not issue any penalties or remove signatories from the list.
Who should sign?
Any individual with an interest or intent to run for elected office, regardless of when they plan to run or what office they plan to run for.
Why is the Polarization Research Lab reaching out to those who have not started a campaign?
In order for the pledge to be credible and hopefully effective, we want to connect with future candidates, rather than current candidates or elected officials who have already run campaigns. We hope that individuals exploring a run, public policy students, law students, activists and political staffers will commit to the pledge now and fully embrace positivity when they campaign.
How can the Pledge be useful to the media and citizens?
Information about signatories of the pledge will be publicly available on the PRL website. Since the pledge targets future candidates, we expect that members of the media and the public will be able to utilize this tool to follow the career trajectories of the signers. The pledge, at its core, serves as a signal of intent of potential candidates to help reduce partisan hatred by running positive campaigns and as such can be important information for voters and journalists to consider as they see these campaigns play out in real time over the next decade. The Lab also collects and makes available political rhetoric data from all elected officials–those who sign the pledge and those who do not–enabling journalists and curious citizens to view and assess the (anti)polarizing language of candidates on their ballots. As the database of pledge signers grows, our researchers plan to examine the effect of the pledge on ameliorating partisan animosity. This research will have important implications for our understanding of the interplay between elite signaling and rhetoric and citizen attitudes toward candidates and the in- and out-party.
Druckman, James N, Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov, Matthew Levendusky and John Barry Ryan. 2020. “Mis-estimating affective polarization.” The Journal of Politics.
Gift, Karen and Thomas Gift. 2015. “Does Politics Influence Hiring? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment.” Political Behavior 37(3):653–75.
Huber, Gregory A and Neil Malhotra. 2017. “Political Homophily in Social Relationships: Evidence from Online Dating Behavior.” The Journal of Politics 79(1):269–283.
Iyengar, Shanto, Gaurav Sood, and Yphtach Lelkes. 2012. “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (September): 405–31.
Iyengar, Shanto, Yphtach Lelkes, Matthew Levendusky, Neil Malhotra and Sean J Westwood. 2019. “The origins and consequences of affective polarization in the United States.” Annual Review of Political Science 22:129–146.
Krupnikov, Yanna. “When does negativity demobilize? Tracing the conditional effect of negative campaigning on voter turnout.” American Journal of Political Science 55.4 (2011): 797-813.
Lau, Richard R., and Ivy Brown Rovner. “Negative campaigning.” Annual review of political science 12 (2009): 285-306.
Lelkes, Yphtach and Sean J Westwood. 2017. “The limits of partisan prejudice.” The Journal of Politics 79(2):485–501.
McConnell, Christopher, Yotam Margalit, Neil Malhotra and Matthew Levendusky. 2018. “The economic consequences of partisanship in a polarized era.” American Journal of Political Science 62(1):5–18.