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More Americans say they support political violence ahead of the 2024 election

In this file photo, a member of the Proud Boys, right, stands in front of a counter protester as members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally on Sept. 26, 2020.
John Locher
In this file photo, a member of the Proud Boys, right, stands in front of a counter protester as members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally on Sept. 26, 2020.

Updated October 25, 2023 at 12:45 PM ET

Tensions are high among American voters ahead of presidential contests next year, according to a new nationalsurvey released Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with the Brookings Institution.

Researchers found that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe democracy is 'at risk' in the upcoming presidential election — and about a quarter of those surveyed said they think "American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country."

"I think we're in for a pretty challenging election season between now and the presidential election in 2024," said Robert Jones, the CEO and founder of the PRRI — a nonpartisan group that conducts research on the intersection of politics, culture and religion.

According to the PRRI study, 75% of Americans surveyed said they agree that the "future of American democracy is at risk in the 2024 presidential election." Democrats were more likely to hold this view with 84% support, but supermajorities of Republicans and independent voters said they also agreed with that statement.

Jones told NPR the most disturbing finding, however, is that more Americans support political violence. Nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) agree that "because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country," according to the survey. This is up from 15% in 2021.

In a statement, PRRI researchers say they have asked about this in "eight separate surveys since March 2021." They said that "this is the first time support for political violence has peaked above 20%" in their survey results.

Jones says he thinks these views are a symptom of continued polarization in the country's politics. He also blamed a spillover effect created by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"I think the temperature is high and people feel the sense that the guardrails are down," Jones explained. "We did have the first non-peaceful transfer of power in the last election and I think that still is resonating across the years and into this new election cycle."

While Americans across the political spectrum feel democracy is at risk next year, support for political violence runs mostly along party lines.

Currently one-third of Republicans support violence as a means to save the country, compared with 22% of independents and 13% of Democrats, the survey found. More specifically, Republicans who have favorable views of Donald Trump were found to be "nearly three times as likely as Republicans who have unfavorable views of Trump" to support political violence.

Compared to past surveys, researchers also found an uptick in support for conspiracy theories among Americans — specifically QAnon. According to PRRI, there has been a significant increase in "QAnon believers (from 14% to 23%)," as well as a "a decrease in QAnon rejecters," since 2021. However, Republicans are still twice as likely as Democrats to agree with the core beliefs of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

There were a few areas of consensus, though. The survey found that an overwhelming majority of Americans (94%) agree that "we should teach our children both the good and bad aspects of our history so that they can learn from the past," compared with just 4% who agree that "we should not teach children history that could make them feel uncomfortable or guilty about what their ancestors did in the past."

The survey also found that a majority of Americans trust public school teachers to select appropriate curriculum and they oppose the banning of books that discuss slavery.

"The vast majority of Americans say they actually trust those professionals to choose appropriate books," Jones said. "So, you know, we're hearing some very loud voices, I think, on this front about what's happening in public schools. For the most part, Americans trust their teachers and really are not behind these bans."

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Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.