New Data Shows Support for Violence Nearly Doubles if Americans Believe Election Losses Stem from Unfair Actions
States United Action Releases New Data on American Views of Political Violence and Guidance for How Leaders Should Effectively Communicate on the Issue
Washington, D.C. — As dangerous rhetoric by political leaders dominates the news, States United Action today released new survey data providing a detailed analysis of Americans’ views on political violence and extremism.
In a new analysis, States United Action found that Americans’ support for political violence was deeply influenced by the context of why they believe their preferred candidate lost an election. Although 20% of respondents said violence could be at least a little justified if the election was free and fair, that number nearly doubled to 37% in a scenario where respondents believe their preferred candidate lost as a result of “unfair actions” taken by political opponents.
“What our elected officials say about elections really matters. We need them to speak out about threats and misinformation, because it makes a difference in the level of support for violence in our country,” said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action. “Two concrete things leaders can do are ensure voters have truthful information about elections about our free and fair elections, and emphasize the humanity and personal experience of people – especially election officials – who are facing threats.”
The report, which surveyed over 3,000 American adults in the week leading up to the 2022 midterms elections, also provides practical guidance for leaders and journalists on how to effectively communicate about political violence without contributing to increased risk. Among the recommendations are for leaders and elected officials to explicitly name the type of harm suffered and describe the people impacted as Americans report low levels of support for violence committed against specific individuals.
In the survey, States United Action found that vast majority of Americans (78%) see political violence as a problem. And they consider the context for violence carefully.
“It’s incredibly heartening to see that Americans overwhelmingly reject acts of violence committed against every day, ordinary people,” said Thania Sanchez, SVP of Research at States United Action. “When asked to consider particular acts of violence, 3 in 4 people said they would never support activities like killing, injuring, harassing, or doxxing ordinary people with whom they disagree politically.”
While respondents did differentiate between elected officials and everyday people, a wide majority (60-74%) also rejected those same acts of violence committed against elected officials. The survey also revealed that support for political violence changed based on specific political circumstances. For instance, 53% of respondents say that political violence is at least occasionally acceptable if the government harasses and imprisons people who criticize government leaders.
New data from the report:
- Americans’ support for political violence changes based on specific political circumstances.
- 23% of respondents said it would always be acceptable to use political violence if the government were to not allow free elections.
- 17% respondents said it would always be acceptable to use political violence if the government harasses and imprisons people who criticize government leaders
- Americans overwhelmingly reject specific acts of violence committed against everyday people.
- Between 73-78% of respondents say that they would “never” support activities like killing, injuring, harassing, or doxxing ordinary people with whom they disagree politically.
- The context in which political violence occurs affects the extent to which Americans support or reject that violence.
- 20% said that violence could be at least “a little” justified if their preferred candidate for President were to lose the 2024 election fair and square.
- If their preferred candidate were to lose because of “unfair actions” taken by their political opponents, support for violence nearly doubled to 37%
In this survey, political violence was defined as the use of violence, threats, intimidation, or harassment to prevent others from exercising their full social or political rights.
To view a PDF of the full report, click here.
About States United Action
States United Action is a nonpartisan section 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization with a mission to protect our elections and our democracy. States United Action advocates for policies that protect election integrity, hold democracy violators accountable, and prevent political violence that threatens to undermine the will of the American people, and amplifies the voices of state leaders and law enforcement leaders who share these values. To learn more, visit www.statesuniteddemocracy.org/states-united-action.