Disrespectful Democracy: The Psychology of Political Incivility Summary

By Emily Sydnor

            Emily Sydnor: Is an assistant professor at Southwestern University with the Political Science Department. Her specialization is political communications and political psychology with a focus on incivility. You can learn more about Sydnor at her website here; http://www.emily-sydnor.com/

            Why we recommend this book: Disrespectful Democracy is a research-centric look at the psychology behind incivility. Even though there is a lot of psychological research language in the book, it’s easy to skim past the research numbers and jargon to get to the heart of what Sydnor has found in her experiments. This book provides a fully grounded psychological perspective of incivility that has been lacking in the discussion of incivility in politics. Disrespectful Democracy does a great job in contributing to the discussion, such as why some people engage in incivility and why some people tend to shy away from it. This book appeals to the academic who wants to see the research done to back up claims and provides in-depth information about the research done, as well as the casual or curious person who wants to know more about incivility.

            Sydnor begins her book by defining the groups that individuals tend to fall in, in terms of conflict orientation and Sydnor defines it as such “…one’s innate reaction to conflict – [which] shapes how the American public reacts to incivility (pg 3).” The whole book centers around what is termed the conflict-avoidant and the conflict-approaching and assessing how each type of person reacts to incivility in any situation, particularly in terms of politics. The first two chapters are spent setting the stage by explaining what incivility is in terms of the research Sydnor does and she uses psychologically backed reasoning about individual differences in conflict orientation. The rest of the book focuses more on the research Sydnor has done.

            Sydnor does an excellent job in mixing her experiments with research from other scholars who have written about incivility. Throughout the book Sydnor presents multiple hypotheses and tests, then, uses her findings as well as utilizes other research in the field to address the results. What makes this book even better, is that Sydnor admits when one of her hypotheses turns out to not be supported by her findings. And once again while this book is based on research and uses a good deal of statistics, it’s not difficult to understand for a person who has never learned about things like statistical significance and ANOVA tests. The last chapter of the book looks towards the future and provides a sound analysis of the findings made throughout the reading. Sydnor addresses the failures and successes of what she has done and provides a motivating call to action.   

            Disrespectful Democracy has flaws even given its excellent analysis and explanation of the psychological reasoning behind incivility. Many of the experiments that Sydnor does are not very generalizable to the whole population or every place that people experience incivility (She focuses on video clips and does little with radio and written articles). And while the book is easy to understand to those who have never learned research methods, it may be necessary to look up some key terms, though this is certainly not a fact that should turn anyone passionate or curious about incivility away from the book.