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23% of Americans support political violence ahead of the 2024 election, survey shows

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Tensions are high among Americans leading into the 2024 election. According to a new national survey, 75% of respondents believe the future of the country's democracy is at risk next year. And the survey also found that a growing number of Americans support political violence in an effort to save the United States. That is all according to data collected by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. NPR's Ashley Lopez is here. And, Ashley, I just want to start with that finding, the increased support for political violence.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Yeah.

SUMMERS: Just how common is that view?

LOPEZ: So the good news is that this is not an overwhelmingly popular position among Americans. Only 23% of people who responded to the survey said they support political violence in some situations. But the bad news is this is a view that is becoming more accepted. And I should point out, the level of support for this view is growing, like, relatively fast.

SUMMERS: How fast are we talking about here?

LOPEZ: Well, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, they've been asking Americans in just the past few years whether they agree with this statement, quote, "because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country," end quote. Researchers say they first asked about this statement in March, 2021. And at that time, only 15% of respondents said they agreed with it. Cut to just two years later, and researchers say that support has grown to nearly a quarter of Americans, which is a significant jump for such a short amount of time.

SUMMERS: Right. What do we know, if anything, about what's driving this uptick in support for political violence?

LOPEZ: So it's likely a combination of things. I talked to Robert Jones, who is the CEO and founder of the group that conducted this study. And he thinks two big things have been happening in American politics that are driving this. One is the continued polarization in American politics, right? Like, people in one political party are increasingly distrustful of people in a different political party, which just doesn't really help bring down the temperature when there are big divides on issues. And the second thing, Jones says, has to do with the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

ROBERT JONES: We had our first election that we cannot say that there was a peaceful transfer of power in the last election year. We had an insurrection on January 6. So I think we are seeing violence spill over. And I think Americans are kind of feeling the country coming unraveled in a way and worried that they may have to brace themselves for that.

LOPEZ: Jones told me he thinks we are in for, like, a pretty challenging season between now and the presidential election in 2024.

SUMMERS: What did they find out about who is most likely to hold these views?

LOPEZ: Yeah, so what we know is that this does fall along party lines in a pretty significant way. Researchers found that one-third of Republicans support violence as a means to save the country, compared with 22% of independents and 13% of Democrats. And more specifically, Republicans who have favorable views of Trump were found to be nearly three times as likely as Republicans who have unfavorable views of Trump to support political violence. They also found that Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump were also three times more likely than those who do not believe the big lie to support political violence in an effort to save the country.

SUMMERS: And, Ashley, just big picture here, do we have a sense of how dire Americans actually think the political situation in this country is? Do a lot of Americans think that the United States needs saving?

LOPEZ: Yeah, so this is a part of the survey where there was a surprising amount of consensus. So three-quarters of the people surveyed say they actually see American democracy at stake in the next election, and 77% said in the survey that they believe that the country is going in the wrong direction. And while Republicans and independents are more likely to feel this way, a majority of Democrats also reported concern over the country's direction.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Ashley Lopez. Thank you, Ashley.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMON, KANYE WEST AND JOHN LEGEND SONG, "THEY SAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.