Fresh off the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and amidst the infighting that continues between too many of our nation’s leaders, the lack of civility in American politics is frustrating voters across the country. Civility is not a fad topic or term, but rather, a much-needed solution to stop the dysfunction in Washington and across the U.S. in order to improve our democracy. The time is now for our elected officials within both parties to take heed and deliver what Americans are decisively asking of them – basic human decency.

According to U.S. Voter Sentiment on Civility in Politics, 79 percent of voters believe our political leaders need to demonstrate civility, authenticity and respect. Conversely, only 21 percent believe political leaders must fight for what is right, even if that means getting aggressive and rude with opposition.

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Civility is simply relational currency that can help them effectively address the issues and challenges we face today. But it requires our policymakers to be others-oriented. While many have chosen to ignore or dismiss this fundamental responsibility of any leader, I’m confident our next generation of elected officials will not make the same mistake.  

Americans want servant leaders, those who are committed to enriching the lives of every individual, regardless of their political party, even those outside of their base.

And voters are willing and want to work together to find common ground. That means more to them than standing up for their respective points of view, according to the survey.

The release of the poll is among the first activities to take place at the American Center for Political Leadership (ACPL), which launched in January. The bipartisan think tank is located on the campus of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., where I serve as president. The ACPL was formed in response to the toxic political climate, the disconnect that many Americans feel towards the policies and motivations of politicians. People want a better understanding of how to get involved in the political process, as passionate voters and as public servants.

Americans have put their trust in colleges and universities just as I have. In fact, 69 percent of voters believe the nation’s colleges and universities should be leading the way through bipartisan research activities, academic programs, courses and workshops that serve to develop the next generation of political leaders.

Our colleges and universities must serve as the platform to cultivate solutions-oriented and servant-minded policymakers.

Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force and Generation Z, those born roughly between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, represents 25 percent of the U.S. population. Simply put, our future is theirs to lead. But it’s important that they know Americans want to vote in favor of candidates who share their regard for character as well as values, rather than against those who they support least.

Among the issues of greatest importance, American voters want leaders who will civilly advocate for and effectively discuss our individual freedoms, including economic freedom, or the right of individuals to control their labor and property (96 percent); racial equality (92 percent); religious freedom (92 percent); gender equality (88 percent); and traditional values (87 percent).

I am encouraged by the students I see every day. And Americans have made it abundantly clear; if the political leaders of today can’t restore civility, voters are optimistic that the next generation will.

Dr. Kent Ingle is president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., and author of “Framework Leadership.”