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He adds, “It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of this debasement of political speech and rhetoric, but it has been suggested that in the face of a nearly invisible, constantly morphing enemy, we have turned the attack inward, upon ourselves, and our institutions.”

GRASS-ROOTS PULL

Memo to politicians who relish slick sound bites: News coverage of “Washington politicians and their rhetoric ” has waning influence on the American public, says a study by Michigan State University, just published in Public Opinion Quarterly.

“Instead, citizens are more apt to be swayed by news stories about grass-roots protests and local events,” says Corwin Smidt, an assistant professor of political science who compared the impact of Washington debate and activism on public opinion polls.

“What this says is that maybe politicians can’t use the bully pulpit to influence public opinion through the news media as much as many people thought they could,” Mr. Smidt continues. “The news media are still the gatekeepers … but everything they cover does not have the same effect. It actually may be the storyline within the news that provokes opinion.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 66 percent of Americans say “America has changed for the worse since 9/11.”

• 18 percent say the nation “is a better place today”; 11 percent are unsure, 6 percent say the U.S. has not changed.

• 55 percent say Muslims in the U.S. have been treated fairly “over the past 10 years.”

• 77 percent of Republicans agree.

• 28 percent overall say Muslim Americans have been treated unfairly.

• 54 percent of Democrats agree.

• 53 percent overall say the world would be better off if “other countries became more like this one.”

• 30 percent are undecided; 18 percent say the world would be worse off is other nations emulated the U.S.

Source: A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 7 and 8.

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