The really can’t help themselves. In this regard, the ‘they’ are academic researchers who conduct public-opinion polls and then use the poll results to justify what they were going to say anyway.
In this instance I am referring to a survey just published in an open-access academic journal which quizzed 7,255 respondents about what they considered to be justifications for resorting to political violence. The research group are all faculty connected one way or another to a research program on gun violence which operates out of the University of California Davis campus.
Now it’s quite obvious that a group of this sort would not be pushing the idea that violence in the political environment is a good thing, right? But the researchers in this project were not only concerned about how many Americans supported political violence but were looking to identify specific sub-groups within the general population which might be more prone to support political violence, so that we could develop effective interventions to prevent such violence from taking place.
Before I get into the results of this survey, which told me what I would have guess to be the results without actually the reading the survey, indulge ne for a moment while I posit some general comments about political violence in the United States.
There’s an academic research organization known as the Armed Conflict and Event Data project, or ACLED, which gathers and analyzes serious instances of conflict from all over the globe and then ranks each country as to its level of violence and physical threat. They publish an annual ‘violence index’ which ranks the top 50 countries which experience extreme, high, or turbulent levels of conflict.
In addition to an overall number for violent conflicts, the data is also broken down into separate types of violence, including battles, violence against civilians, mob violence, protests, and violent demonstrations.
ACLED publishes a conflict index which ranks the 50 most politically violent countries. Know where we end up on the violence index of the 50 most violent countries in the world today? We ranked 50th – dead fucking last – in the 2023 list. As of January 2024, we dropped off the list.
With all due respect to the horrific videos which came out of January 6th, take a look at the 3-hour video which is being described by the media as a ‘violent and chaotic assault on the police.’
First of all, there’s not a single rioter anywhere near the Lower West Terrace tunnel for the first 40 minutes of the battle. Then when the rioters do show up, they stand around for another 20 minutes or so figuring out how to breach a contingent of helmeted riot police who are blacking entrance into the building at that point. Then a cop climbs up above the rioters and sprays them with what appears to be Mace, at which the rioters retreat down the steps.
By the two hour, forty-minute mark, you can’t see a single face of any rioter because they are all walking themselves back down the steps. The three-hour ‘battle’ has come to an end.
The four researchers who conducted this survey have decided that the United States faces a serious threat of political violence from one subset of people who claim to be supporters of the GOP. What a surprise when this subset is identified as MAGA supporters, defined by anyone who voted for Trump in 2020 and believes that the election was a fraud.
Why is the MAGA contingent such a threat to upend or damage our political institutions with violence? Because 46% of them ‘strongly’ agreed that “our American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”
On the other hand, the MAGA-ites are disposed to using violence to achieve their political ends as long as the violence is committed by someone other than themselves. Ready? A whole, big 4% of the MAGA population said they would be ‘somewhat willing’ or ‘very willing’ to use force or violence against someone who did not share their political beliefs, and 5.3% said they might react violently against a cop.
But understand something about these answers. The 5% who said they might be willing to assault a cop in the context of political violence were 5% of the 15% of survey respondents who identified themselves as being supporters of MAGA.
Wow! That’s quite a mass of Americans who are willing to take to the streets and deal with their political enemies by using brute force.
Now let’s see. According to the Census, there are 258 million Americans who are 18 years or older. In 2020, 73 million voted for the GOP. Let’s say for the sake of argument that half of the 100 million who didn’t vote also consider themselves to be pro-GOP.
This brings us to 120 million adults who if contacted for a public-opinion survey might say they are Republicans either in thought or in deed. If 15% of them are MAGA, that gets us to 18 million, and 5% of them brings us down to 900,000 who would take up arms to defend the good, ol’ U.S. of A.
Except hardly any of them would actually engage in physical violence, for the simple reason that more than 1,000 January 6th ‘patriots’ are either behind bars, or waiting to be told how much time they will spend behind bars.
What we have in the survey published by the four UC-Davis researchers is another example of how much we worry about a problem in this country which doesn’t exist.
What some Americans love to do is walk around with a Glock or some other military-style gun, pull it out, point it at someone else and go – bang! That kind of violence has become a unique, American cultural and behavioral event.
The UC-Davis research group spends most of their time trying to figure out why 100,000+ Americans shoot another 100,000+ Americans every year. But these injuries have absolutely nothing to do with politics at all.
In that respect, America is a remarkably non-violent place.