The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Trump voters see civil war as somewhat likely within a decade

Supporters of former president Donald Trump outside Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 9. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg)
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It is Donald Trump’s fervent hope that, somehow, he should become president again. Maybe it’s in 2025, with his reelection by the American people. Or maybe, he seems to think, it could happen sooner. On Monday, he posited that some theorized bit of FBI nefariousness would warrant “declar[ing] the 2020 Election irreparably compromised” leading to a “new Election, immediately!”

Hopefully needless to say, this is both an unfounded demand and an unrealizable one. There is no mechanism for just throwing out a presidential election, even if it were warranted, which here it is not. But what’s important is that Trump believes or is pretending to believe that it could be. That the government of President Biden is illegitimate. This is the message he’s sending to his supporters: that the government should be upended in his favor.

This should be considered in the context of a disconcerting new poll finding released by YouGov: Four in 10 Americans think that a civil war may be likely within the next decade. Among those who say they voted for Trump in 2020, it’s more than 50 percent — a group that also expects political violence to increase “a lot” over the coming years.

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We should stipulate that discussion of civil war is very different from any actual conflict. In fact, experts on civil conflict believe that a full-on armed conflict between political groups is unlikely for a variety of reasons, and that political violence might instead manifest as sporadic flare-ups. Not much consolation, certainly, but some. Of course, that’s assuming that tensions flare up at all. Relying on public opinion as an indicator of what’s likely to happen is understandably fraught.

That said, Americans generally see the danger of civil war — whatever that means in practice — as very real. In YouGov’s polling, conducted for the Economist, 14 percent of respondents said civil war was “very likely” within 10 years. An additional 29 percent said it was “somewhat likely.” Among Trump voters, though, those figures were 19 percent and 34 percent, respectively — or 53 percent in total. Among Biden voters, the total was just over a third.

Just because Americans see a civil war as looming doesn’t necessarily mean they will try to effect it, of course. But as explored elsewhere Monday, discussion of violence as potentially imminent can make it more likely to occur. What’s more, polling from The Washington Post and our partners at the University of Maryland this year found that 1 in 3 Americans think violence against the government can be justified — a sentiment more common on the right.

YouGov also asked respondents what they expected to happen more broadly in coming years. Most Americans think both political divisions and political violence will increase. But Republicans and those who say they voted for Trump are more likely to believe that both will increase than are Americans overall.

Among Trump voters, 47 percent think that the level of political violence will increase in coming years.

It’s clear, as the YouGov poll found, that political division has in fact increased. Even since 2021, poll respondents said that America had grown substantially more divided. This is measurable, as shown in analysis like that published by Pew Research Center this month. Americans feel as though political gulfs are widening, and researchers are measuring that expansion.

This is not the same as feeling as though the nation’s divides warrant or precede a violent conflict. Yet many Americans think such a conflict is looming. That a former president suggesting that a change of power is necessary doesn’t help.