Nearly 25% of Americans believe it’s okay to sometimes use violence against government officials — and 1/10 Americans think violence is justifiable “right now.”
This is the conclusion of The COVID States Project’s new report. They asked 23,000 Americans whether they believe it is ever justified to protest the government. This is just one of many recent reports that show people are more likely to consider violent protests than in the past.
Nearly one in four people believe violence is either “definitely,” or “probably,” justified against the government. Similar percentages of conservatives and liberals agree on this point.
This is not surprising when you consider how American history has been taught, according to David Lazer, co-director of COVID States Project.
He said, “You know, we start with the American Revolution against an unlegitimate government, and so we are in a sense taught from grade school that at certain points in history it is justifiable for us to engage in violent protest.”
The COVID States Project often asks Americans questions about their COVID-related policies and behavior. For example, whether they know which masks filter more viruses or what their views are about vaccine mandates. Lazer stated that COVID-19 questions don’t seem to be too far removed from questions about violence in today’s political climate.
He said, “Before 2020’s election, we looked at both beliefs about the expected legitimacy of the election and vote modality — because obviously, how people voted was determined partly by COVID.” “We view it all as part of a package that includes what has occurred over the past two years to American society.”
According to the survey, 1 in 10 Americans believe violence is justified at this time. The report revealed that Republicans and ideological conservatives are more likely to believe violent protest against government is justified right now. The figure is nearly 1 in 5 among Republican men.
About two-thirds of those who believe that violent protest is justified point to the federal government as a target. Only one-third, however, direct their anger at the state governments.
Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that “Unfortunately these survey findings aren’t at all surprising.” Kleinfeld, who wasn’t involved in the survey said the findings were consistent with other recent polling.
A University of Chicago poll last year found that almost one in 10 Americans thought force was necessary to restore Trump’s presidency. In December, The Washington Post & University of Maryland combined found that 13% of Americans believe violence against government is sometimes justified.
She said that the number of Americans who support violent protests has increased by twofold in the past decade. Kleinfeld believes that these poll results are more than just philosophical.
She said, “It has moved from the realm of chest thumping to the sphere reality and it’s impacting election workers, volunteer voters, school boards, etc., really the kind warp and weft our democratic system.”
Kleinfeld says that the government must hold citizens accountable. Kleinfeld says that it is not just those who would storm Capitol Hill, but all who are threatening the workers who help us keep our democracy alive.
Some researchers believe polls can exaggerate violence potential
However, some researchers who were not involved in the survey worry that the results may be too provocative and overestimate the support for political violence in America. Sean Westwood, Dartmouth College professor of government, is currently working on a paper to correct the measurement errors that can occur when people are asked about political violence.
Westwood stated that when trying to measure violence there is a tendency to be as broad as possible in order to capture as many support as possible. He said that people who are not interested in political violence or protests may choose randomly from the available options. This could lead to over-counting people who support it.
Westwood also stated that the survey questions do not capture context.
He said that there are many instances where violent protests against government could be justified, pointing out the Warsaw Ghetto riots in which the Nazis were defeated and the civil rights movement in the U.S. 6.”
Both scenarios could be captured by the survey question.
Westwood stated that it was impossible to determine the consent of respondents in this setup.
Christian Davenport is a professor at Michigan and a researcher at Peace Research Institute Oslo. He’s also very circumspect. Although the numbers are not surprising, Davenport stated that he isn’t a fan solely of using polls to determine the potential violence of a population.
He said that “individuals will say a lot of things in a poll, but never show up for any.”