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Poll Gauges Public Attitudes toward Political Violence in the United States

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Political violence -- from high profile events like the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol to local extremist threats to election workers, school board members and other citizens -- represents a growing threat to our democracy. In response, The Joyce Foundation, Trusted Elections Fund, and The Klarman Family Foundation initiated a public opinion research project exploring the public’s view of, and reaction to, political violence and extremism.

Conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research between January-April 2022, the project included two national surveys, with state and demographic oversamples of Black, Latinx & Asian Americans, as well as residents in 14 states, including Michigan, Ohio & Wisconsin in the Great Lakes region.

The research project also included social media listening and analysis in hopes of better understanding the public’s view of political violence and armed political extremism; and four focus group sessions including among young people, voters of color, gun owners, and self-described conservative voters.

There were some hopeful findings. Most people are united in the belief that political violence is intolerable: 83 percent of respondents said violence intended to influence a party or election is never or almost never justified. Further, there was strong support – over 70 percent – for a variety of policy solutions aimed at preventing armed extremist or political violence from threatening democracy. Perhaps most exciting is that these high levels of support hold true for large majorities, across political parties and among gun owners.

The research team also hoped to learn if and how threats of political violence impact the public’s likelihood of participating in (or avoiding) civic activity, gauge support for policy reforms, and, finally, provide guidance on effect messaging to discuss potential threats in a way that does not chill people from voting or participating in other civic activities.

The research acknowledged the difficulty in a public opinion survey of approximating the conditions of political violence or the threat of it on civic participation. But it attempted to measure that impact by exposing half the sample to a discussion of political violence before gauging political participation, and then comparing it to a sample of respondents whose political participation was measured before any discussion of political violence. In this test, no evidence emerged suggesting that educating the public on risks of political violence broadly discourages civic participation.

Finally, in an attempt to understand and correct mis- and disinformation on political violence, the research determined that peer-to-peer outreach would be most effective—meaning friends and family make stronger advocates for addressing the issue than any broad messenger. Outside of peers, military and law enforcement were deemed most credible, though these results vary among different racial and partisan groups.

Learn more about the project, its methodology and findings here.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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