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About half of Americans would appreciate it if Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama could be civil to one another when they debate at the University of Denver on Wednesday evening.

Yes, civil, as in courteous and polite. No disrespect. No backbiting. No cheap shots.

In a poll released Monday, 48% of likely voters said the candidates’ civility will be an important factor in how they vote. This is a surprising number given the general incivility of a national political discourse dominated by talk radio and partisan TV news pontificators.

“There’s a heightened sensitivity over the issue of civility,” said KRC Research Chief Executive Bradley Honan, whose firm conducted the research with two public relations firms, Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate. “The candidates need to be especially concerned.”

Many voters are tired of the wise-cracks as serious crises fester, from high unemployment to the looming fiscal cliff that might throw the nation back into a recession, Mr. Honan said. They want the two candidates to clearly compare and contrast their positions, and agree to disagree, and respect what the election decides.

I put myself in the other half of voters who don’t really care if the candidates are civil to each other or not. Currently, our electoral system involves awarding the presidency to the best speech-giver. Why not giving it to the best insult-hurler, instead?

So far, the race for the highest office of the land has hardly been characterized by civility, from Super PAC attack ads to the harsh words from the candidates themselves. If voters really want these guys to be nice to each other, why do these tactics work?

Mr. Romney recently outraged Mr. Obama with a birth certificate quip. Mr. Obama has never relented in characterizing Mr. Romney as a vulture investor out of touch with the pains of ordinary people. “It’s nice to be here in the nice, vast Hilton ballroom,” Obama said at the White House Correspondents Dinner in April. “Or as Mitt Romney would call it, a fixer-upper.”

Face to face, it will be difficult to be so gratuitously insulting.
“A debate is something that calls for the candidates to show character,” said Buie Sewell, an ethics professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “It’s not like tweeting. It’s not like trash-talking.”