Civility in America 2016: Through the Gen Z Lenses 

NEW YORK – May 12, 2016 – The sixth installment of Civility in America from global public relations and engagement firm Weber Shandwick, public affairs firm Powell Tate and KRC Research looks at civility through a generational lens to better understand how different segments of our society perceive and experience the actions of other Americans.

Civility in America 2016: Through the Gen Z Lenses

This year’s study explores 15 to 18 year olds, a segment of a larger cohort commonly known as Generation Z, and found that this group reports the highest rate of encounters with incivility. A full two-thirds of this post-Millennial segment (65 percent) considers the Internet and social media to be the root cause of incivility, far surpassing any other source. These findings highlight the opportunity to proactively engage this generation through dialogue before matters worsen.



The Incivility Experience

Gen Z

(ages 15-18)


(ages 19-34)

Gen X

(ages 35-50)


(ages 51-69)

Personally experienced any incivility





Average # times in a 7-day week





In real life/offline/in-person





Online/social networks







The Internet and Social Media: Driving Incivility

Gen Z, the first generation to grow up online, holds the Internet accountable – by wide margins – over any other reason for incivility in America. Millennials and Gen X blame politicians and the Internet nearly equally, while Boomers cite politicians more. Perhaps Gen Z’s youthful inexperience with other potential sources plays a role in their certainty that the Internet is the main culprit more so than any other source.



Top 5 Causes of Incivility by Generation

Gen Z

(ages 15-18)


(ages 19-34)

Gen X

(ages 35-50)


(ages 51-69)

Internet/Social media (65%) Internet/Social media (63%) Politicians (58%) Politicians (68%)
Politicians (54%) Politicians (61%) Internet/Social media (57%) Internet/Social media (62%)
Entertainment media (54%) News media (49%) News media (49%) News media (62%)
Celebrities (51%) Entertainment media (47%) Government officials (44%) Government officials (48%)
America’s youth (50%) Government officials (41%) America’s youth (44%) America’s youth (45%)
Liberal or conservative interest groups (45%)
It should concern all of us that the generation that grew up alongside the rise of social media has had such extensive experience with incivility. Our research shows encouraging signs, however, that they can look ahead toward a more civil future.

Pam Jenkins

President of Powell Tate

School: The Incivility Zone

No surprise given their age, school is the primary place where incivility breeds for Gen Z, with 61 percent having experienced incivility at school. Perhaps this explains why nearly as many members of Gen Z – 59 percent – believe schools should have civility training.


“Schools may need to proactively invest in civility policies and communications in order to counter the perception that they are training grounds for incivility,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick. “The reputation of our educational system will suffer if we do not take these findings seriously enough.”


Terrorism: The Taboo Topic

More than any other generation, Gen Z avoids the topic of terrorism due to their belief that avoidance will keep a conversation from turning uncivil. Among 10 topics respondents say they would avoid discussing for fear the conversation will turn uncivil, Gen Z, Gen X and Boomers all cite racial inequality as their top avoidance pick. Millennials choose to avoid abortion rights/the right to choose. However, Gen Z is significantly more likely than any other generation to avoid getting into a discussion on terrorism (26% Gen Z vs. 18% Millennials, 19% GenX, 15% Baby Boomers). Born into a post-9/11 world, perhaps the pervasiveness of terrorism in the news and social media has heightened Gen Z’s sensitivity to terrorism as a flashpoint in conversations.


Hope: A Generational Divide

Although Americans of all ages are unanimous about the bleak state of civility, there is a distinct split between those under and over 50 years old when it comes to the future of civility. Our Gen Z sample and Millennials are twice as likely to believe that civility will improve in the next few years (20 percent and 18 percent, respectively) compared to Gen X and Boomers (10 percent and 8 percent, respectively).


“It should be unacceptable to all Americans that young people between the ages of 15 and 18 are having personal experiences of significant incivility at a rate that is essentially daily.  What more evidence do we need that a national effort to revive civility in our schools, our communities, our politics and our culture is imperative,” said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.


Click here to view the Civility in America 2016: Through the Gen Z Lenses infographic.



About The Research

The 2016 Civility in America online survey was conducted from January 7 to January 14 among 1,005 American adults, 18 years and older, with an augment sample of 236 15-18 year olds. This group of teens is the oldest of Generation Z, often defined with birth years ranging from the late 1990s through the 2010s or from the early 2000s to around 2025.


About Weber Shandwick

Weber Shandwick is a leading global communications and engagement firm in 78 cities across 34 countries with a network extending to 126 cities in 81 countries. The firm’s diverse team of strategists, analysts, producers, designers, developers and campaign activators has won the most prestigious awards in the world for innovative, creative approaches and impactful work, including being honored as PRWeek’s Global Agency of the Year in 2015 and 2016, an Ad Age A-List Agency in 2014 and 2015, and The Holmes Report’s Global Agency of the Year in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Weber Shandwick and its Prime unit have won a combined 25 Cannes Lions since 2009. Weber Shandwick was also named a Best Place to Work by Ad Age in 2014 and 2015 and PRWeek in 2013 and 2014. The firm deploys deep expertise across sectors and specialty areas, including consumer marketing, corporate reputation, healthcare, technology, public affairs, financial services, corporate social responsibility, financial communications and crisis management, using proprietary social, digital and analytics methodologies. Weber Shandwick is part of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG). For more information, visit


About Powell Tate

Founded by two of Washington, D.C.’s most respected press secretaries – Democrat Jody Powell and Republican Sheila Tate – Powell Tate has been one of Washington, D.C.’s leading public affairs firms for more than two decades, maintaining its bipartisan heritage while developing cutting edge programs that communicate across the political aisle and multiple platforms. Recently cited as one of Washington, D.C.’s “Best Places to Work” by the Washington Post and Washington Business Journal, Powell Tate is a division of Weber Shandwick.


For more information, visit


About KRC Research

KRC Research is a global full-service nonpartisan opinion research and strategy firm. A unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies (NYSE: IPG), KRC Research offers the quality and custom service of a small firm with the reach of a global organization. For over 30 years, KRC Research has worked on behalf of corporations, governments, not-for-profits and the communications firms that represent them. Staffed with multidisciplinary research professionals, KRC combines sophisticated research tools with real-world communications experience. For more information, visit