Other, high-quality polling showed significantly lower levels of support among Muslims for potentially justified violence. But even if we take this one at face value, what does all that say about what Trump has wrought?
A poll released Monday by the Public Religion Research Institute is the latest to show that, even after the tumultuous events of Jan. 6, a large number of Republicans — 3 in 10 — believe violence might be justified “to save our country.”
What this poll adds to the dialogue is how much that overlaps with belief about a stolen election. Among those who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, support for justified violence rises to 39 percent.
To put that in perspective, about 1 percent of people in the United States are Muslims, a little more than 2 million adults. The Pew Research Center’s data in 2011 showed that 13 percent of adult Muslims in the country said violence was either “often” (1 percent) or “sometimes”/"rarely” (12 percent) justified. That would translate to about 300,000 people.
By contrast, PRRI’s data show 31 percent of American adults wrongly believe the election was stolen from Trump. If 39 percent of them believe violence could be justified, that translates to 12 percent overall — about 31 million American adults — who believe the election was stolen and also sympathize with the statement that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
The PRRI survey is merely the latest to reinforce the powder keg that remains in the American electorate — and just how much Republicans, especially, will entertain the idea of justified violence. In PRRI’s May survey, 28 percent of Republicans said violence might be necessary to save the country. (The numbers among Democrats in each poll: 7 percent in May and 11 percent today.) Another survey, in February, soon after Jan. 6, showed an even higher number, with 39 percent of Republicans agreeing that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.” There didn’t used to be such a partisan gap on such things.
There are some nuances in these data, including what people believe might justify that violence and whom it would be directed against. While the PRRI poll asked about violence being necessary to save our country, the Pew survey asked whether “suicide bombing/other violence against civilians is justified to defend Islam from its enemies.” Believing in violence hypothetically being justified is highly case-specific, and not everyone will have the same threshold.
But the point stands that a very large segment of the population believes violence might be justified. And, most important, much of this segment regards there as having been something very bad — a stolen American election! — that just took place. It’s not a huge leap from there to justifying violence to combat just such a thing. We saw how significant the number of people willing to make that leap can be on Jan. 6.
Also important is the degree to which these impulses are being fed into — as if Jan. 6 never happened. Not only did Trump for much of his five-plus years as a candidate and president suggestively allude to the prospect of violence by his supporters, but some of the more extreme Republican members and cable-TV pundits continue to speak in terms of revolution and nod toward potentially justified violence — often with no effort from GOP leadership to check such rhetoric. Most recently, this involved Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) suggesting last week that the Capitol riot was in line with the Declaration of Independence.
In addition to letting these kinds of comments slide, many in the Republican Party have moved toward questioning the need for true reflection about and investigation into what happened Jan. 6. And in many cases, they have downplayed it. They’ve also largely given up rebutting Trump’s claims of a stolen election.
Given all of that, we probably shouldn’t be too surprised when large swaths of the conservative movement show a willingness to justify violence in such circumstances. But the party leaders should probably do some reflection when it comes to just how much they’ve let that metastasize.
On Jan. 6, it was Trump turning a blind eye to the consequences of the kind of radicalization he warned about as a candidate five years earlier — at least when the radicalization occurred among a group he could use as a political boogeyman. Today, it’s GOP leaders either pretending that such scenes won’t repeat themselves or feeling as though it’s just not worth trying to do something about.
One wonders how they’d respond to something like this if those believing in justified violence were a particular religious group rather than a political one.