Updated Jan 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Poll: Americans increasingly justifying political violence

Capitol riot

Photo: Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

About 1 in 3 Americans believe that "violence against the government can at times be justified," a year out from the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, a poll by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland out Saturday found.

Why it matters: It's the largest share of respondents to hold that view in similar polls in the last two decades, according to the Post, which said the findings "offer a window into the country’s psyche at a tumultuous period in American history."

  • It comes after "last year’s insurrection, the rise of Trump’s election claims as an energizing force on the right, deepening fissures over the government’s role in combating the pandemic, and mounting racial justice protests sparked by police killings of Black Americans," writes the Post.

By the numbers: A majority of adults still say violence is never justified. But that number, 62%, is a new low, per the Post. Some 90% believed it was never justified in the 1990s.

  • The new poll found that 40% of Republicans and 41% of independents said violence can be acceptable, compared with 23% of Democrats. Forty percent of white Americans said violence can be justified, compared with 18% of Black Americans.
  • Flashback: The percentage of adults who said violence is justified was 23% in 2015 and 16% in 2010 in polls by CBS News and the New York Times respectively, according to the Post.

What they're saying: "People’s reasoning for what they considered acceptable violence against the government varied, from what they considered to be overreaching coronavirus restrictions, to the disenfranchisement of minority voters, to the oppression of Americans," the Post writes.

  • "Responses to an open-ended question on the survey about hypothetical justifications included repeated mentions of 'autocracy,' 'tyranny,' 'corruption' and a loss of freedoms."

Separately, a CBS News/YouGov poll out Sunday found that 68% of respondents believed the events of Jan. 6 were a sign of increasing political violence, rather than an isolated incident.

  • Sixty-six percent of respondents also said they believe that U.S. democracy today is threatened, and 62% expect violence from the losing side in future presidential elections.
  • At least a quarter of respondents denoted issues of civil rights, gun policies, abortion rights and labor policies as important enough that violence "might be justified, depending on the situation," per CBS.

Methodology: The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll was conducted online and by phone Dec. 17-19, 2021, among a random national sample of 1,101 adults. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of ±4 points.

The CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,063 U.S. adult residents interviewed between Dec. 27-30, 2021. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.6 points.

Go deeper