Most Americans blame social media for civility’s decline in this country and believe U.S. citizens don’t know much about how government works, according to a new American Bar Association (ABA) survey. The ABA is the world’s largest voluntary association of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals.
The 2023 ABA Survey of Civic Literacy, released in April, asked 1,000 Americans about their views on civility, what issues they’d be willing to compromise on, and how much they know about the workings of the U.S. government. Some of the findings revealed that 85 percent said civility is worse than it was 10 years ago, with 29 percent saying social media is primarily responsible, followed by 24 percent blaming the media and 19 percent blaming public officials.
During a visit with local leaders in Minneapolis June 25-27, ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross told the MSR that the survey’s findings are a call to action for her and other legal professionals.
“I’ve been focused on what we call the cornerstones of democracy, the three Cs—civics, civility, and collaboration,” noted Enix-Ross, who was elected president last year. “Civics education and civic engagement so that people understand about our branches of government, what they’re meant to do and what they’re not meant to do, how they interact.
“People really need it,” continued Enix-Ross on civics, the first “C”: “We need to be going out into our communities and explaining how government works and what they can do if they don’t like something that’s going on in their government.”
To that point, the survey found that most people believe the general public is not very informed about how government works (53 percent), while only 3 percent said Americans were very informed.
Almost everyone surveyed (79 percent) said they want government leaders to work toward compromise. But many opposed elected officials compromising on specific issues such as voting rights (57 percent), reproductive rights (45 percent), gun rights (41 percent), and 40 percent on Social Security.
Blacks respondents (26 percent) were less willing to bend on the issue of gun rights than Whites (41 percent) and Latinos (51 percent), according to the survey. But nearly 6 in 10 Black respondents (60 percent) supported compromise on reproductive rights compared to Whites (43 percent) and Latinos (47 percent).
On the issue of voting rights, more than half (57 percent) of total respondents were opposed to compromise; there were no significant differences among age and ethnic groups on this issue.
“It is not easy to listen to someone but at least listening and looking for that opening where you might have something in common” is important, Enix-Ross said as she stressed the second “C”—civility.
Collaboration, the third “C“means “this is not just legal professionals’ job but it will take journalists and business leaders and state leaders and teachers, all of us working together,” added the ABA president.
When asked about the recent Department of Justice report released last month that highlighted the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) discriminatory practices against Blacks and Native Americans, Enix-Ross said, “That’s a pretty strong finding. If Black families of victims of police can now file suit against MPD, that’s going to depend on the specific circumstances, depend on the individuals,” she added. “The main thing is that they have confidence that the courts, the judges will look at each case fairly and make the decision based on these individual cases … on a case by case basis.”
With regard to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against race-based affirmative action, Enix-Ross said in a statement: “The ABA has a long history of supporting affirmative action and the consideration of race as one of many factors in law school admissions. We believe it is imperative that colleges, universities, and state legislatures find alternative ways to create a diverse and talented student body.
“Law schools are training grounds for lawyers and play an important role to ensure a diverse bench and bar, which are critical to minimizing implicit bias and inspiring greater public faith in the rule of law.”
Finally, Enix-Ross advised not to lose hope despite the current outlook. “I’m a realist,” she concluded. “I just want to remind people that sometimes we should be impatient for change.
“But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that there has been change. Sometimes it may feel like two steps forward, one step back … let’s never lose sight of what we have to choose to redouble our efforts.”