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12m Americans Believe Violence Is Justified to Restore Trump to Power

10 Jun 2023 10:57

Islam Times - Two and a half years after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, an estimated 12 million American adults, or 4.4% of the adult population, believe violence is justified to restore Donald Trump to the White House.

Though the number of adults who believe this has declined since the insurrection, recent survey data from the University of Chicago reveal alarming and dangerous levels of support for political violence and conspiracy theories across the United States.

The university’s Chicago Project on Security & Threats [CPOST] research center has been conducting Dangers to Democracy surveys of American adults on political violence and attitudes towards democracy since shortly after the January 6 attacks. In new data from April shared exclusively with the Guardian, researchers found a continued support for violence to achieve various political goals on both sides of the aisle, and a general distrust for democracy.

The results are particularly alarming as the 2024 election approaches without essential safeguards that some lawmakers say could help prevent another violent attack on US democracy.

For the next year and a half through the 2024 election, CPOST will be releasing new survey data tracking continued dangers to democracy every three months. The data will be published first with the Guardian. This data will be critical at a time when efforts to erode democracy feel increasingly prevalent in the United States, from candidates who deny the results of their elections to governmental taskforces attempting to prosecute people who unintentionally violate voting laws.

“We’re heading into an extremely tumultuous election season,” said Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who directs CPOST. “What’s happening in the United States is political violence is going from the fringe to the mainstream.”

The most recent survey from April 2023 found that an estimated 142 million Americans believe that elections won’t solve America’s most fundamental problems – up from 111 million last September. And one in five American adults still believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, representing very little change from 2021.

“What you’re seeing is really disturbing levels of distrust in American democracy, support for dangerous conspiracy theories, and support for political violence itself,” Pape said.

Pape said it was important to track sentiments about political violence, comparing it to the kindling for a wildfire. Though many were unaware that the events on January 6 would turn violent, research shows that public support for violence was widespread, so the attacks themselves should not have come as a surprise.

“Once you have support for violence in the mainstream, those are the raw ingredients or the raw combustible material and then speeches, typically by politicians, can set them off,” he said. “Or if they get going, speeches can encourage them to go further.”

Before the January 6 insurrection, there was chatter on online forums and among far-right groups about potential political violence when Congress met to count electoral votes and certify Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. But it was Trump’s speech at the White House Ellipse that day that touched off the actual violence, Pape said.

That’s why it’s important to track public sentiment about political violence regularly. The instigating event, usually a speech or comment by a person in power, is unpredictable and can set people off at any moment, but the underlying support for violence is more predictable and trackable.

The survey found that almost 14% – a minority of Americans, but still a significant number – believe the use of force is justified to “achieve political goals that I support”. More specifically, 12.4% believe it’s justified to restore the federal right to abortion, 8.4% believe it’s justified to ensure members of Congress and other government officials do the right thing, 6.3% think it’s justified to preserve the rights of white Americans, and 6.1% believe it’s justified to prevent the prosecution of Trump.

Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University and the author of a forthcoming book on public trust in the military, said that while public support for political violence might seem extreme, a confluence of factors is necessary for actual violence to occur – which is still rare. On January 6, there was a time-sensitive action, an already existing rally, and inciters including Trump who encouraged others to commit violence.

“You needed all of that at the same time to turn what would have been latent sentiment of the sort that this survey captures into actual violence,” he said.

In addition to wide support for Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election, the survey also found that significant numbers of American adults believe conspiracy theories about the US government, and the number of believers has remained steady over almost two years. For example, 10% of American adults in April said they believe the government is run by Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

“The survey confirms what we already knew, which is that rhetoric is really hyperbolic in American political life,” Feaver said. “You can get folks to express support for pretty extreme statements.”

An even greater percentage of American adults said they believe in the “great replacement” theory, a white nationalist conspiracy theory that holds there is an active effort to replace white people with non-white populations, including immigrants and other people of color, in white-majority countries.

While much of the survey reveals an alarming level of political polarization in the United States, there are areas where the majority of people do agree. Almost 55% of American adults feel like elections won’t solve our most fundamental political and social problems, and close to 50% believe political elites on both sides of the aisle are the most corrupt people in America.

Perhaps more optimistically, the largest share of Americans believe in a potential solution to political violence. More than 77% think Republicans and Democrats in Congress should make a joint statement condemning any political violence.

Story Code: 1063040

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