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Outside Looking In Lobbyists' Views on Civil Discourse in U.S. State Legislature

Our research has only scratched the surface as we work to identify and support improvements to the state legislative process. We continually welcome new collaborators, funders and participants who become part of the team working to bring about positive changes.

Although the research presented here significantly advances knowledge about legislative civility, major gaps remain in that knowledge. Filling those gaps will contribute to efforts to create more civil state legislative processes, and perhaps more civil civic life in general. Some feasible research topic that would fill in major parts of our knowledge deficit are sketched out as follows.

    • Future research should examine the civility effects of changes in the policy agenda of a legislature, especially as economic inequality intensifies social and political stress.
    • What happens in rural communities as urbanization and suburbanization continue to encroach upon non-metropolitan areas within the states? Will these divides intensify the erosion of civility and catalyze higher levels of conflict between rural and urban interests? We need a much better understanding of currently divisive trends and their sources, their impact on civility, and how to mitigate the ill-effects these are having on the nation.
    • Researchers should develop systematic, empirical measures of civility to see whether they are strongly associated with the perceptions of civility that are typically gathered.
    • Most of the information gathered about the effects of incivility is anecdotal in nature. It would be useful to identify any systematic consequences of variations in incivility that might be present, such as the efficiency of the legislative process, the frequency of use of procedural roadblocks, or the overall productivity of the legislature as judged by knowledgeable commentators in the press and/or academia.
    • Studies of incivility’s presence and effects should not be confined solely to cross-sectional slices in time. Longitudinal social science research is critical, especially in documenting the degree to which interventions such as those attempted by the Conference of State Legislatures and the National Institute for Civil Discourse make a difference. It is quite important for both scholars and practitioners to know whether variations in the larger national political climate are likely to have a major effect on state legislative deliberative processes.
    • There might be opportunities to understand more fully the importance of legislative leadership in maintaining decorum within party caucuses and the legislative process. More finely focused research is needed to understand the causal pathways that lead to both incivility and civility, and the role that various types of leadership styles might play in this regard.
    • The data for this study are based solely in the perceptions of lobbyists who have a substantial professional and financial stake in the effective operation of their respective state legislatures. But there are other potential sets of important observers who may or may not have the same stake-based perspectives. It would be informative indeed to triangulate perceptions of a legislature’s civility level to see whether there is agreement across sectors of participants—for example, lobbyists and public agency legislative liaison officers, the print and broadcast media press, the judiciary, career legislative staff and caucus staff, and members of the second legislative body.
    • Subsequent work could vitally be directed at identifying contentious issues, such as state-level pandemic response, and then probing them at some depth for what effect the presence or absence of civil discourse had in the politics arising around COVID-19.