As tensions rise in a divided America, one-third of Republicans say “patriots may have to resort to violence”
WASHINGTON (October 25, 2023)—As the nation turns its eyes toward an unprecedented presidential election with two of the oldest and least popular leading candidates in history — one of whom is facing a wave of federal and state indictments — a new national survey released today by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with the Brookings Institution finds three-fourths of Americans (75%) saying that the future of American democracy is at risk in the 2024 presidential election.
The 14th annual American Values Survey reveals a nation characterized by political polarization and a troubling rise in support for political violence. It examines Americans’ attitudes about the issues defining the country’s partisan and cultural fault lines, including concerns about the overall direction of the country and the health of democracy, the state of the economy and inflation, public education, abortion, gender and LGBTQ issues, immigration, Christian nationalism, and support for QAnon. Additionally, the survey measures support for leading presidential candidates, including third-party candidates.
“The political temperature in America is rising, and this year’s American Values Survey results reflect that reality,” said PRRI president and founder Robert P. Jones. “Our last presidential election was the first in our history without a peaceful transfer of power. With flashes of political violence continuing among us, and the 2024 election on the horizon, we should be deeply concerned about the growing number of Americans who express openness to political violence.”
Rising Support for Political Violence and Conspiracy Theories
Disturbingly, support for political violence has increased over the last two years. Today, 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,” up from 15% in 2021. PRRI has asked this question in eight separate surveys since March 2021. This is the first-time support for political violence has risen above 20% in the general population.
Fully one-third of Republicans (33%) today believe that true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country, compared with 22% of independents and 13% of Democrats. Those percentages have increased across the board since 2021, when 28% of Republicans, 13% of independents, and 7% of Democrats held this belief. Nearly one-third of white evangelical Protestants (31%) also believe patriots may have to resort to political violence to save the country, significantly higher than any other religious group.
Support for political violence jumps to even higher levels among Americans who hold the following attitudes:
- Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump (46%);
- Americans who hold a favorable view of Trump (41%);
- Americans who believe in the so-called “replacement theory,” that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background” (41%); and
- Americans who affirm the core tenet of white Christian nationalism, that God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians (39%).
The survey also examined QAnon beliefs, which PRRI has been tracking since 2021. Across party lines, there has been a significant increase in QAnon Believers (from 14% to 23%) and a decrease in QAnon Rejecters (from 40% to 29%). Republicans, however, remain twice as likely as Democrats to be QAnon Believers (29% vs. 14%) and are three times less likely to be QAnon Rejecters (14% vs. 43%).
The Role of the President and Critical Election Issues
Americans are roughly divided about whether they prefer a presidential candidate who can best manage the economy (51%) versus a presidential candidate who can best protect and preserve American culture and the American way of life (46%).
“One year out from the 2024 election, we see a stark divide over what Americans want in a president, one that is a reflection of our country’s deepest fault lines,” said Melissa Deckman, CEO of PRRI. “A slim majority of Americans, including most Democrats, want a president who can make America work economically; but nearly half of Americans, including most Republicans, prefer a president who will preserve their vision of American culture and way of life in the face of the country’s changing demographics.”
Most Republicans prefer a candidate who can preserve American culture (58%), while most Democrats and independents prefer a candidate who can manage the economy (57% and 53% respectively). Americans who most trust Fox News (63%) or far-right news networks (73%) are much more likely to say they want a presidential candidate who will preserve American culture than those who do not watch TV news (40%) or those who most trust mainstream news outlets (45%).
There are deep generational divides on the preference for presidential candidates. Majorities of younger Americans — including Gen Z (56%), millennials (63%), and Gen X (55%) — say they prefer a president who can best manage the economy. Majorities of older Americans — baby boomers (60%) and members of the Silent Generation (74%) — prefer a president who can preserve and protect American culture.
Among 20 political issues, Americans are most likely to rate increasing costs of housing and everyday expenses (62%) as a critical issue. Increasing costs are the only issue that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agree is critical. Majorities of Democrats also rate climate change (66%), access to guns and gun safety (66%), health care (59%), the health of democracy (58%), the growing gap between the rich and poor (57%), as their top critical issues. By contrast, majorities of Republicans rate what children are learning in public schools (59%), crime (57%), immigration (57%), and human trafficking (54%) as critical issues.
Other notable findings:
- Education: Overwhelming majorities of Americans support teaching both the good and the bad of American history, trust public school teachers to select appropriate curriculum, and oppose the banning of books that discuss slavery or the banning of Advanced Placement (AP) African American History. A solid majority of Americans also oppose banning social and emotional learning programs in public schools. Americans are more divided on the issue of teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Abortion: Reflecting the sea change in abortion politics, Democrats are now significantly more likely than Republicans to say their support for a candidate hinges on the candidate’s position on abortion (50% vs. 38%).
- Transgender issues: A slim majority of Americans (54%) agree that people advocating for the rights of transgender people have gone too far in recent years. Most Republicans (85%) and independents (56%) agree with this statement, compared with 29% of Democrats. At the same time, a majority of Americans (58%) agree that restricting the rights of transgender people is just another form of discrimination. Most Democrats (79%) and independents (59%) agree with this statement, compared with 43% of Republicans.
- Immigration: Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to say they would only vote for someone who shared their views on immigration (45% vs 29%). Less than half (44%) of Americans, including 15% of Democrats but 77% of Republicans, favor installing deterrents such as walls, floating barriers in rivers, and razor wire to prevent immigrants from entering the country illegally, even if they endanger or kill some people. A majority of Americans (52%) oppose such tactics.
Favorability: Biden, Trump, and Other 2024 Presidential Candidates
Four in ten Americans (40%) approve of the job that Joe Biden is doing as president, and a similar 37% report holding a favorable view of Biden.
One-third of Americans (33%) hold favorable views of Trump. Trump’s favorability today sits in between where it was at comparable points in the 2016 and 2020 election cycles (27% in late 2015; 40% in late 2019).
Among their own partisans, Biden has an advantage over Trump. Eight in ten Democrats (80%) hold a favorable view of Biden, while seven in ten Republicans (69%) hold favorable views of Trump. However, the support Trump has is firmer than Biden’s. Among those who hold a favorable view of Biden, 39% say there is almost nothing Biden could do to lose their support. Among those who hold a favorable view of Trump, 45% say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their support.
In a two-way race, registered voters are evenly divided over whether they would vote for Biden (48%) and Trump (46%), while 6% of Americans do not choose either candidate. The survey also found the race remained a statistical dead heat in a hypothetical four-way race including Cornel West and either Larry Hogan or Joe Manchin as third-party candidates.
The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible through the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, and the Open Society Foundations. The survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,525 adults (age 18 and up) living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online between August 25 – 30, 2023. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.19 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.26. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context, and order effects.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and politics.
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