Trendspotting: Growing Share of Voters Say Violence May Be "Justified."

10/05/20 09:15AM EDT

NEWSWIRE: 10/5/2020 

  • A growing share of Americans on both sides of the political spectrum (about 1 in 3) believe violence may be justified as a way to advance their political goals, according to a new poll. The shares grow even higher when it comes to approving of violence if their preferred candidate loses the election. (Politico)
    • NH: There are 28 days to go until election day. And with plausible scenarios showing how the outcome could jump the constitutional guardrails (see "Election 2020: Supreme Showdown"), new poll numbers suggest that you may want to tighten your seatbelts as we enter the final turn.
    • For starters, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, 66% of voters don't expect any decision until after election night. Many are no doubt learning that three swing states (PA, MI, and WI) will not even begin to count their massive inflow of mail-in ballots until after polls close. Moreover, many voters are "very" or "somewhat" concerned that a candidate will prematurely declare victory. 53% of all voters are concerned that Trump would do this; 33% have the same concern about Biden. The greater worries about Trump no doubt stem from evidence that a large majority (perhaps two thirds) of mail-in ballots are expected to go to Biden--and this poll shows that most voters agree with that assessment.
    • On fears of voter fraud and outcome manipulation, a Hofstra University survey shows that these are starkly polarized according to party. 66% of Democrats are "very concerned" about foreign government interference, versus only 15% of Republicans. On the other hand, 68% of Republicans believe that over 1 percent of votes cast in 2016 (that's 1.3 million votes) were fraudulent, versus only 18% of Democrats. As for mail-in ballots, 88% of Democrats think they are "secure" while 80% of Republicans think they are "not secure."
    • The Hofstra survey goes on to ask, in case your candidate loses, how likely you are to support efforts by your state to formally secede from the United States. 39% of all voters say they would "support" or "somewhat support" such efforts. Just under half, 47.5%, say they would flatly "oppose" the idea. (Another 13.2% say they would "somewhat oppose" it.) Support from Democrats and Republicans is roughly the same. Rural America leans furthest toward secession. Remarkably, 43% of all rural voters would go for the idea.
    • All this sets us up for the eye-opening results of a study, conducted by a team of five academics and think-tank researchers, on attitudes toward violence. Over the last three years, this team has been tracking responses (in various surveys) to the following question: How much do you feel it is justified for your party to use violence in advancing its political goals? The possible answers are "never," "a little," "a moderate amount," "a lot," or "a great deal.'
    • What they found is that a steeply rising share of Americans who identify as Democrats or Republicans say at least a little violence is justified. Back in November of 2017, that share was 8%. Now it's 33% (Democrats) and 36% (Republicans).

Trendspotting: Growing Share of Voters Say Violence May Be "Justified."  - Oct6

    • When asked specifically about justifying at least "a little" violence if the other candidate wins in 2020, the most recent percentages are even higher--44% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats.
    • Predictably, advocacy of violence strengthens with partisanship. Among Republicans who identify as "very conservative," 16% say there would be "a great deal" of justification for violence versus only 7% of all who identify as simply "conservative." Ditto for Democrats: 26% of "very liberal" Democrats say a great deal of justification versus only 7% of "liberal" Democrats.
    • The researchers also find that any news about politically motivated violence, no matter who is responsible, tends to trigger upward tolerance of violence on both sides. Note the jump that took place in the trend during the first six months of 2020.
    • One of the study's authors, Nathan Kalmoe at Louisiana State, recently published a book on a similar theme: With Ballots and Bullets: Partisanship and Violence in the American Civil War.
    • Summarizing their findings, the researchers as a group likewise use history to strike an admonitory tone. "How seriously should we take these expressions of violence? Both history and social psychology warn us to take them very seriously.
    • "In Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, a rising tide of armed street mobilization and of violent clashes between rival partisans ravaged fragile democratic cultures, bullied and marginalized moderate forces, and gave rising autocrats an excuse to seize emergency powers. Some of us who’ve studied the rise of authoritarians see strong parallels between that period of European history and factors at work in America today."
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