From “corrupt” to “jerk:” call your opponent a bad name at your own risk

If you’re in politics, it appears as if calling your opponent dishonest, corrupt or radical is generally OK. But calling him ignoramus, jerk or numb-nuts is out of bounds.

At least, that is, in New Jersey, according to a Fairleigh-Dickinson University PublicMind poll released today.

“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.

Presumably the results would be different in the more genteel South. We also have the sense to use different epithets. Numb nuts? It’s more likely we’d say “Bless his heart” or “He ain’t right in the head.”

— John Robinson

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