MADISON, NJ - Most New Jersey voters say that politicians should avoid name-calling and be respectful of their opponents. According to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 87% say politicians should lay off the name-calling. Just 10% say it’s OK for pols to make a strong point by calling their opponent a name.
But given a choice of 14 names, not all names are equal: 23% of Garden State voters say calling an opponent “dishonest” is never acceptable. And 24% say “corrupt” is never acceptable. And only 25% say “radical” is never acceptable. But half (50%) say “unpatriotic” is never allowed. Two-thirds (67%) say “fascist” is never acceptable.
Topping the “never acceptable” list are “ignoramus” (78%), “jerk” (83%) and, the winner, “numb-nuts” (84%).
“People really do want civility in political discourse,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. But he added, “The problem is that civility doesn’t sell any advertising, and it doesn’t necessarily energize voters. People want a spark.”
In general, Republicans are more lenient about name-calling than Democrats. For example, while a majority of Democrats (57%) say it’s not acceptable to call an opponent “unpatriotic,” only 38% of Republicans agree. A third of Democrats (34%) say “hypocrite” is off-limits, but only two of five Republicans (22%) agree.
Voters who approve of their governor are generally more accepting of names than those who don’t approve of the governor, but with notable exceptions. “Snob” can be acceptable to 43% of those who approve of the governor’s handling of his job, and 46% of those who disapprove. “Dishonest” is OK at least sometimes for three-quarters of approvers (75%) and a similar proportion of disapprovers (77%). And most important, “bully” can be acceptable to 58% of those who approve of the governor and 52% of those who disapprove of him.
“The governor’s critics who call him ‘bully’ are just as much name-calling as anyone else,” said Woolley. “It’s just a matter of which names you will allow as appropriate. Apparently, many voters don’t like this name either.”
In general, women are more likely than men to declare any of the 14 names tested as “never acceptable.” For example, a third of men (32%) say “liar” is never alright, but twice as many women (62%) say “liar” is never OK. A quarter of men (27%) say “flip flopper” is not acceptable ever, while 42% of women say “flip flopper” is never acceptable. Some exceptions are “jerk” where three-quarters of men (76%) agree with nine of ten women (89%) that’s it is never acceptable, and “numb-nuts,” where four of five men (79%) agree with nine of ten women (89%).
“Any job where you can call someone numb-nuts or write about someone calling someone numb-nuts is a good job,” said Woolley. “I’m thankful to the voters of the state of New Jersey and to my university, who made all this possible. I hadn’t heard that gem since I was a student at Wildwood High School.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from Mar. 5 through Mar. 11, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.