Politics /

Political Violence Becoming More Acceptable to American Voters, New Study Shows

Roughly half of the U.S. views political opponents as threats to the American way of life

America’s political divide remains deep as large swaths of the country remain deeply distrustful of political opponents, favor using political violence to achieve their goals, and support policies that could upend the U.S. Constitution.

Respondents fielding questions about a head-to-head race between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump express a great deal of suspicion toward the opposing side, according to a new national study by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Roughly half — 52 percent of Biden voters and 47 percent of Trump voters — view those who support the other political party as threats to the American way of life.

A significant majority of both Biden (70 percent) and Trump (68 percent) voters believe electing officials from the opposing party will bring lasting harm to the U.S., the study found.

Additionally, 41 percent of Biden voters and 38 percent of Trump voters believe the other side has become so extreme that it is acceptable to use violence to stop them from achieving their goals.

Partisan views on constitutional rights were also pronounced, with Biden voters being far more likely to support policies that increase state power and trample individual rights.

Nearly a third (31 percent) of Biden voters agree with limiting rights, including free speech, to safeguard the feelings of marginalized groups. Only 25 percent of Trump voters agreed.

On gun control, 74 percent of Biden voters favor more restrictions on the types and quantity of firearms one can own, compared to just 35 percent of Trump voters.

More than half (56 percent) of Biden voters support addressing income inequality by redistributing all wealth over a certain limit, compared to just 39 percent of Trump voters.

Nearly a third (30 percent) of Trump voters believe that elections should be suspended in times of crisis, compared to just 25 percent of Biden supporters who agree.

The new data reveals deep fissures within the U.S., which is quickly becoming a political powder keg.

“We stand on the precipice of a developing emergency,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics. “Dislike of the other side combined with a pervasive disregard for the fundamental freedoms contained in the U.S. Constitution poses a grave threat. If these sentiments go unchecked and grow, our nation could face disastrous division.”

Americans also hold strongly divergent views on other issues, including whether the 2020 election was stolen, immigration, and education.

“The deep divisions within the American electorate are strikingly apparent across various dimensions, from policy positions to priorities and values,” said Larry Schack, co-founder of Project Home Fire. “What is most concerning about this study is the mainstream acceptance of authoritarian means to achieve preferred political outcomes. This trend is no longer limited to a specific individual or a substantial minority; it now extends to both Biden and Trump voters, indicating a willingness to bypass democratic norms in pursuit of their respective goals.”

The study included 2,008 registered voters and was conducted from Aug. 25 to Sept. 11, 2023.

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