Researchers shocked as Americans believe civil war is likely

There are growing fears over the rising threat of political violence the United States, with over half of Americans believing the country is heading towards a civil war.

A study from the researchers at the University of California Davis Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) examined the attitudes of people across the USA  in terms of their willingness to involve themselves in political violence.

The results revealed alarming trends in attitudes toward violence, including political violence, in the United States.

“We expected the findings to be concerning, but these exceeded our worst expectations,” said Garen Wintemute, lead author of the study. Wintemute is an emergency department physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program and the California Firearm Violence Research Centre at UC Davis.

The survey questions focused on three areas: beliefs regarding democracy and the potential for violence in the United States, beliefs regarding American society and institutions, and support for and willingness to engage in violence, including political violence.

Some key findings included:

  • 2% perceive there is “a serious threat to our democracy.”
  • 1% agree that “in the next several years, there will be civil war in the United States.”
  • 4% agreed that “having a strong leader for America is more important than having a democracy.”
  • 2% agreed that “in America, native-born white people are being replaced by immigrants.”
  • 7% agreed strongly or very strongly that violence or force is needed to “protect American democracy” when “elected leaders will not.”
  • 5% think that political violence is at least sometimes justifiable “in general.”

Among participants who considered political violence to be at least sometimes justified to achieve a specific objective, 12.2% were willing to commit political violence “to threaten or intimidate a person,” 10.4% “to injure a person,” and 7.1% “to kill a person.”

Among all participants, nearly 1 in 5 thought it was at least somewhat likely that within the next few years, in a situation where political violence was justified, “I will be armed with a gun.” Four percent thought it at least somewhat likely that “I will shoot someone with a gun.”

The questions were designed to gauge current attitudes and concerns about violence in the U.S. and willingness to engage in specific political violence scenarios.

A total of 8,620 people who are adult members of the Ipsos Knowledge Panel participated. The sample was designed to represent the general adult population of the United States.

The researchers said that the findings, coupled with prior research, suggest a continuing high level of alienation and a mistrust of American democratic society and its institutions. Substantial minorities of the population endorse violence, including lethal violence, to obtain political objectives.

The researchers have called for evidence-based violence prevention efforts to be put in place. They say more research on prevention efforts will be needed.

“It is important to emphasise that these findings also provide firm ground for hope. A large majority of respondents rejected political violence altogether, whether generally or in support of any single specific objective,” Wintemute said.

He points out that a large majority of those who did endorse political violence were unwilling to resort to violence themselves.

“The challenge now for those large majorities is to recognize the threat posed by those willing to engage in political violence and respond adequately to it,” Wintemute added.

Among all participants, nearly 1 in 5 thought it was at least somewhat likely that within the next few years, in a situation where political violence was justified, “I will be armed with a gun.” Four percent thought it at least somewhat likely that “I will shoot someone with a gun.”

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