The articles in this symposium are peppered with numerous recent incidents of political incivility ranging from physical scuffles at town hall meetings to the now-infamous accusation shouted at president Barack Obama during a nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress. Name calling and ad hominem attacks that were once associated with talk radio and cable television pundits have made their way into the halls of governing institutions, which no longer serve as sacred spaces one-step removed from bare-knuckled politics. Indeed, divisive views have even made inroads into “safe” topics for discussion—the weather and sports. Forget the intensity of debate over climate change. Democrats were actually 10% more likely to claim that the 2012 winter season was warmer than were their Republicans counterparts (Newport 2012). Sports no longer offers a neutral conversation starter, as 27% of Republicans view Tim Tebow as their favorite quarterback compared to only 9% of Democrats (Public Policy Polling 2011). Vitriol, combined with legislative gridlock and the uproar of protestors—not only in Washington, DC, but also in state capitals and prominent cities across the country—has shifted our discipline's attention to the role of political civility in sustaining a healthy democracy.
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