Kira Lerner, The Guardian, July 25, 2023
The June federal indictment of Donald Trump is “radicalizing” support for the use of force on behalf of the former president and current presidential candidate, according to the author of a recent survey about threats to democracy.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, support for violence to restore the federal right to an abortion has also increased over the last few months, researchers found, although there’s little indication that any organized groups support acting on this belief.
The Dangers to Democracy report indicates that a growing number of Americans support the use of political violence as the 2024 presidential campaign heats up and further indictments of Trump are probably imminent.
“The indictment is radicalizing support for Trump, but that’s not the only source of radicalization,” said Robert Pape, a University of Chicago professor who led the research. “You’re seeing growing anger and radicalization on the left as well.”
The number of Americans who believe the use of force is justified to restore Trump to the White House increased by roughly 6 million in the last few months to an estimated 18 million people, according to the survey conducted by the university in late June and shared exclusively with the Guardian.
Of those 18 million people, 68% believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and 62% believe the prosecutions of Trump are intended to hurt his chances in 2024. An estimated 7% of Americans now believe violence could be necessary to restore Trump to the presidency, up from 4.5%, or 12 million people, in April.
But over the same period, Trump’s general favorability slightly decreased among Republicans, the survey found.
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 insurrection at the US Capitol.
The most recent report marks the first increase in radical, violent support for Trump since April 2022, according to Pape, who directs CPost.
“The public is more radicalized than it was in April and it’s really quite significant,” he said. “We’ve been tracking this quite a while, and this is a really big bump.”
Still, a radicalized public isn’t enough for actual violence to occur, Pape said. He compared the support to kindling, but said Trump would have to give a speech or rally inciting people to act at a certain time to light the fire, as he did in Washington DC on 6 January 2021.
Democrats, however, expressed support for political violence for a different purpose. The survey found support for the use of force to coerce members of Congress to “do the right thing” grew from 9% in January to 17% – an estimated 44 million Americans – at the end of June, with the sharpest rise among Democrats. Support for violence to restore the federal right to an abortion also increased during this time.
“Things are definitely heading in the wrong direction in terms of the radicalization of the country and we need to be aware of that because there were some hopes that the Trump indictment would actually reduce support for Trump,” Pape said.
Survey respondents also said they view Trump as a bigger threat to democracy than President Joe Biden, with a difference of 52% to 33%.
Researchers also asked participants about support for dangerous conspiracy theories, including whether they believe that a secret group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is ruling the US government. The number of people who believe that statement – a major tenet of the QAnon conspiracy theory – increased slightly, although the change was not greater than the margin of error.
The survey also found that nearly 90% of Trump’s most radical supporters believe the federal government is run by a “deep state” of immoral people.
With more indictments of Trump likely to come in the next few weeks, both from the federal government and the Fulton county, Georgia, district attorney, Pape said he was concerned that further radicalization of the public is likely to occur.
As Trump faces more complicated legal trouble and the 2024 election season gets under way with the first GOP debate just one month away, the number of Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him remains largely unchanged at roughly 20%.
“Things are going in the wrong direction of radicalization, and we haven’t even gotten into the really heated part of the 2024 election season,” Pape said.