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April 27, 2023

ABA survey: Civility is vanishing — and it’s the media’s fault

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2023 – Americans aren’t very nice to each other anymore and they blame social media and the media generally.

That’s the consensus in a new American Bar Association survey. The 2023 ABA Survey of Civic Literacy asked who is to blame for the nation’s growing incivility, what issues they’d be willing to compromise on and how much they know about how American government works.

The results: A majority agreed that civility is worse, that political compromise is good, but many are not willing to compromise on specific issues. Also, most U.S. residents think Americans don’t know much about how government works.

The survey is released each year to mark Law Day, observed annually on May 1. The results are from a nationally representative survey of 1,000 respondents conducted in English and Spanish by telephone March 17-22 by DAPA Research on behalf of the ABA. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Here are the results of some individual questions:


  • A big majority, 85%, said civility in today’s society is worse than it was 10 years ago.
  • 29% said social media is primarily responsible for eroding civility. Another 24% blamed the media generally and 19% blamed public officials.
  • 34% said family and friends are primarily responsible for improving civility in our society. Another 27% said it’s primarily the responsibility of public officials and 11% said community leaders. Only 7% said it’s primarily the responsibility of teachers.
  • An overwhelming majority (90%) said parents and family are most responsible for instilling civility in children.


  • Almost everyone said they want government leaders to work toward compromise and not hold their ground until they win. More than 3 out of 4 (79%) said they support compromise. Only 13% support government leaders holding their ground.
  • But on specific issues, many people opposed elected officials compromising:
  • 57% oppose compromise on voting rights.
  • 45% oppose compromise on reproductive rights. The same number (45%) support compromise.
  • A majority supports compromise on gun rights (53%), Social Security (53%), immigration reform (70%) and infrastructure (75%). But 41% oppose compromise on gun rights and 40% oppose compromise on Social Security.
  • Younger people are more willing to compromise on Social Security (61% of those 18-24) than older people approaching retirement (48% of those 50-64).
  • More women than men support compromise on gun rights — 58% versus 46%. Also, Hispanic respondents are less willing to compromise than other people — 51% oppose compromise compared to 41% of white respondents and 26% of Black respondents.
  • There was no significant difference between men and women’s support for compromise on reproductive rights (45% of men versus 44% of women).

Civic knowledge

  • Most people thought the general public is not very informed about how government works (53%) or not at all informed (17%).
  • Most people (59%) knew that John Roberts is chief justice of the United States, but 19% thought it was Clarence Thomas.
  • 21% incorrectly thought only U.S. citizens must pay federal income tax, and 18% incorrectly thought only citizens must obey the law. Also,19% incorrectly thought freedom of speech is only for U.S. citizens.
  • A large majority (87%) knew that the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. But 44% incorrectly thought “We the people” are the first words of the Declaration of Independence.

To see the complete 2023 ABA Survey of Civic Literacy, click here.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.