Poll: Rudeness in America, 2006

ByABC News
February 2, 2006, 9:10 PM

Feb. 3, 2006 — -- In the ranks of rudeness, cell phones reign.

While vast majorities of Americans experience a range of rude behaviors at least occasionally in their daily lives, the one transgression that occurs most often is accompanied by a ring tone: People talking on cell phones, in public places, in a loud or annoying manner.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans in an ABC News "20/20" survey say they encounter that kind of gabbing at least sometimes, and a majority -- 57 percent -- hear it often. That takes the cake for frequency; by contrast, just under four in 10 often experience generally rude or disrespectful behavior, cursing, near-cursing or people interrupting conversations to use e-mail or cell phones.

Those other behaviors still occur aplenty: Tote up people who experience these "sometimes" as well as "often" and you get at least three-quarters in each case.

How bothersome these behaviors are is another matter. Rude or disrespectful behavior is the most objectionable -- among people who see it, nearly six in 10 say it bothers them "a lot." But many people have become inured to cell-phone offenses: Forty-five percent say rude use of cell phones bothers them a lot. About as many are very bothered by swear words, while least objectionable is the use of ersatz curses, such as "freaking" or "b.s." Twenty-five percent of Americans say that bothers them a lot.

Again, broader bother -- not just "a lot," but also including people who are somewhat bothered -- runs much higher, ranging from 83 percent for general rudeness to 50 percent for substitute swearing.

Sensitivity to the lack of courtesy varies among groups, with women and older Americans most likely to be bothered by bad behavior. The biggest difference between the sexes is on the appropriateness of public cursing: Fifty-eight percent of women say it bothers them a lot, compared with 38 percent of men -- a big 20-point gap.

Women also are 16 points more likely than men to be very bothered by people who are rude or disrespectful in general, and nine to 13 points more apt to be bothered by other behaviors.

There are also differences by age. Seniors -- the least likely to use cell phones regularly -- are the most annoyed by loud cellular calls: Nearly six in 10 are bothered by it a lot, compared with 35 percent of those under age 35. Similarly, seniors are the most likely to be very bothered by people using cells or e-mail mid-conversation, cursing or the use of substitute curses.

Bad manners, to some extent, may be a thing of youth. Overall, in terms of their own behavior, 41 percent of Americans admit to sometimes being so busy and pressed for time that they're not as polite as they'd like to be. Among those under age 35 it's 48 percent; that drops to 38 percent among their elders.

Despite their different sensibilities, men and women are about equally likely to say they're sometimes less polite than they'd like. And contrary to what you might expect, Americans who live in urban areas are no more likely than those in outside metropolitan centers to say they're sometimes too busy to act politely.

Just under two in 10 Americans say they curse regularly, but add in those who do swear, but "not so often," and it rises to 36 percent. Again, it spikes among young adults: Nearly three in 10 of those under 35 swear in public very or somewhat often, nearly triple the number of seniors who do so.

There's no clear, consistent link between the use of communication devices and rudeness. People who never use cell phones are less apt than users to say they're sometimes too busy to be as polite as they'd like; but impoliteness does not increase as frequency of cell phone use rises.

Also, cell phone users are no more likely than non-users to say they curse regularly. And people who use e-mail, iPods or MP3s, and/or text messaging are no more likely than those who don't use such tools to say they're sometimes too busy to be polite, or to say they use swear words.

All told, about half of Americans regularly use cell phones, as many regularly use e-mail and nearly three in 10 regularly use iPods or other personal music devices. Fewer, one in six, use text or instant messaging on a regular basis.

Age is a big factor: Cell phone usage is highest among those under 45, use of iPods and text messaging is significantly higher among those under 35 and e-mail usage drops precipitously among seniors.

Neither observed rudeness nor the bother it causes has changed much in the past four years, despite a continued spike in the number of Americans toting cells phones and other mobile communication gadgetry.

There are some slight shifts. Fifty-seven percent now report often witnessing others making loud or annoying cell phone calls in public areas; that's up eight points from a Public Agenda/Pew poll in 2002. The percentage bothered "a lot" by these calls inched up by a modest five points.

On the other hand, reports of rude language in public are down slightly, by five points, from 2002 -- and the number of people who are very bothered by that kind of language is down by eight points.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 20-24, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,014 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.