Oct 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Support for political violence jumps in U.S., survey says

Share who agree with the statement “American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save the country”
Editor's note: The chart with this story has been corrected; a previous version had the labels for Democrats and Independents reversed. Data: PRRI; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Nearly a quarter of Americans agree that "patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country" — the most in the nearly three years the question has been asked since Donald Trump's presidency, a new survey says.

Why it matters: The wide-ranging survey by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution sheds light on the religious, racial and political differences that are shaping America's increasingly tense politics.

  • The report found there is one thing the vast majority of Americans agree on: People across the political spectrum — 75% of all Americans — agree that American democracy is at risk in the 2024 presidential election.

The big picture: The rise in support of political violence comes amid growing mistrust in media, massive demographic shifts across the nation, and a boom in misinformation and unchecked bigoted content on social media.

By the numbers: The survey found that 23% of Americans agree that "because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country."

  • That's up from 15% in 2021, when the Jan. 6 insurrection led researchers to start asking about political violence, using terms that seek out those who would see such violence as akin to partiotism.
  • One-third of Republicans believe that "patriots" may have to resort to violence to "save the country," compared with 22% of independents and 13% of Democrats.
  • Those percentages have increased across the board since 2021, when 28% of Republicans, 13% of independents and 7% of Democrats held this belief.

Zoom in: The survey found deep religious and racial differences around beliefs on political violence.

  • About 31% of white evangelical Protestants thought violence may be needed to "save the country," compared to 24% of Black Protestants and 21% of Hispanic Catholics.

The intrigue: The report found that Democrats (84%) are the most likely to agree that the future of American democracy is at risk, but 77% of Republicans and 73% of independents also agree.

  • Nearly six in ten Americans (57%) say the re-election of Trump would threaten America's democracy and its way of life.

Zoom out: The report also found growing support for political conspiracy and racist theories.

  • Nearly four in 10 Americans (38%) said they believed in "white replacement theory" — a decades-old racist notion that immigrants are invading the U.S. and people of color are purposely replacing white people in politics and the economy.
  • Across party lines, there has been a significant jump in followers of the conspiracy group QAnon(from 14% to 23%) and a decrease in QAnon rejecters (from 40% to 29%).
  • Republicans remain twice as likely as Democrats to be QAnon believers (29% vs. 14%) and three times less likely reject QAnon (14% vs. 43%).

What they're saying: " It looks like the temperature has gone up across the board, but especially among Republicans," said Robert P. Jones, president and founder of PRRI, tells Axios.

  • "If you have this sense that your demographic is supposed to be at the top of political power, and elections don't produce that result, then, well, almost everything's justified to bring about the right 'outcome.' "
  • He said the survey results indicate white Christian Americans in particular have a sense of entitlement and ownership in the United States because many believe the U.S. was founded for European Christians.

Of note: Support for political violence jumps to even higher levels among Americans who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump (46%).

  • It's also high among Americans who affirm the core tenet of white Christian nationalism — that God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians (39%).

Methodology: The American Values Survey was conducted online between Aug. 25-30. The poll is based on a representative sample of 2,525 adults (age 18 and older) living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who are part of Ipsos' Knowledge Panel®.

  • The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.19 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample.
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