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Poll: Stop Calling Politicians Jerks & Fascists

What's on your list of no-nos?

Just about no-one thinks it's OK to call a politican "numb-nuts."

That's the finding from a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll that asked not only whether it's OK for politicians to call each other names, but which names. Read on for the full statement from FDU.

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.

This post is shared across several sites serving communities in Morris and Sussex counties. Comments below and poll responses may be by readers of any of those sites.

MikeL March 28, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I know this is naïve but it would be nice to see two (or more) politicians actually debating a point as opposed to pointing out personal faults. I agree with Veritas, that sometimes the shoe fits. But where does it stop? We can call a guy a moron, but can we call him ugly? Bald? Or are the insults relegated to subjective claims?
Maxim Sapozhnikov March 29, 2012 at 12:36 PM
"Numb-nuts" and "jerk" stand out since they are gender-tinged, and there is a strong social taboo against calling anyone "fascist", but others are free game. However, calling someone "liar" or "corrupt" borders on slander unless accompanied by a factual accusation.
baileybrowerjr March 29, 2012 at 10:12 PM
How about taking Sweeney, the State Senate President to task for his unprintable ephitet when speaking about our Governor? If someone was ever an uncouth, common and otherwise coarse politician, it certainly is reflected by this "public servant"!!! Unhappily, the adjectives listed don't go far enough to describe some of the low life who feed off the electorate with unconscionable pensions, double dipping, handouts and all of those things we read about when the politicians who are on the take, are exposed for all to see. Bailey Brower, Jr. HIS COMMENT SISM UNPRINTABLE. WHAT A PERSON SAYS IS THE MARK OPF THE MAN. I have met a few numb-nuts in my day, and it a kid of opu7t down rather than ajny call to armds. Bailey Browr
Dan Grant March 30, 2012 at 12:18 AM
What about calling posters names especially the one who make up names and don't have the courage to express themselves. Take Ronald Robinette for example. That may be his real name and if it is I applauld the fact that he can make such dumb comments under what I presume is his real name. While he obsesses on Obama's grades he ought to think about the C student with the White Legacy Affirmative Action Scholarship that got us into this mess in the first place.
KA706 April 03, 2012 at 02:01 AM
If you are in a public position, or one of power, you should never use these words on another. You need to show a little class! It is sad how few people even know what that is anymore. I am a teacher and if I ever uttered some of the words on this list, I could lose my job! What types of role models and leaders are these people who use such words? What example are they leading for others? I really hope it stops. It makes me sick to hear such words thrown around.

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