A disturbing number of Americans feel that political violence is justified if the other side wins the election, according to Politico – which says that they’ve been tracking trends in public opinion that “provide strong grounds for concern.”
“Our research, which we’re reporting here for the first time, shows an upswing in the past few months in the number of Americans—both Democrats and Republicans—who said they think violence would be justified if their side loses the upcoming presidential election,” reads a Thursday article.
The outlet noticed an uptick in the number of respondents who say they would condone violence committed by members of their own political party – which coincided with a willingness by both Democrats and Republicans to justify violence as a means to achieve political goals.
Here’s what Politico found (emphasis ours):
• Among Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican, 1 in 3 now believe that violence could be justified to advance their parties’ political goals—a substantial increase over the last three years.
• In September, 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats said there would be at least “a little” justification for violence if the other party’s nominee wins the election. Those figures are both up from June, when 35 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats expressed the same sentiment.
• Similarly, 36 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats said it is at least “a little” justified for their side “to use violence in advancing political goals”—up from 30 percent of both Republicans and Democrats in June.
• There has been an even larger increase in the share of both Democrats and Republicans who believe there would be either “a lot” or “a great deal” of justification for violence if their party were to lose in November. The share of Republicans seeing substantial justification for violence if their side loses jumped from 15 percent in June to 20 percent in September, while the share of Democrats jumped from 16 percent to 19 percent.
• These numbers are even higher among the most ideological partisans. Of Democrats who identify as “very liberal,” 26 percent said there would be “a great deal” of justification for violence if their candidate loses the presidency compared to 7 percent of those identifying as simply “liberal.” Of Republicans who identify as “very conservative,” 16 percent said they believe there would be “a great deal” of justification for violence if the GOP candidate loses compared to 7 percent of those identifying as simply “conservative.” This means the ideological extremes of each party are two to four times more apt to see violence as justified than their party’s mainstream members.
Notably, those at the ideological extremes are more likely to condone violence, with ‘very liberal’ respondents over 50% more likely than ‘very conservative’ individuals to do so.
Politico‘s takeaway is that about 20% of Americans with strong political affiliation are “quite willing to endorse violence” if the other side wins the presidency – and that both history and social psychology warn us to take these threats very seriously. The outlet compares the rising discontent to armed street mobilizations in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, when violent clashes between rival partisans “ravaged fragile democratic cultures, bullied and marginalized moderate forces, and gave rising autocrats an excuse to seize emergency powers.”
That said, just because someone approves of partisan violence doesn’t mean they’re ready to pick up a gun. Still, “even a shift of 1 percent in these surveys would represent the views of over a million Americans.”
Furthermore, two of us have found in our research that violent events tend to increase public approval of political violence—potentially creating a vicious cycle even if violence is sparked in only a few spots.
Viewed in this light, the events of this summer are especially worrying. Competing protesters from the right and left have clashed violently in Portland, Ore.; Kenosha, Wis.; and Louisville. Left-wing extremists have repeatedly laid siege to federal buildings in Portland, and on several occasions, armed right-wing protesters entered the State Capitol in Michigan. –Politico