Nearly one in four Americans believe political violence justified to ‘save’ US

Nearly one in four Americans believe that political violence may be justified to “save” the country, a national opinion poll has found.

The 14th annual American Values Survey, carried out by the non-profit Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with the Brookings Institution thinktank, offers a snapshot of America’s deepening polarisation and willingness to contemplate taking up arms.

Even as Joe Biden has sought to lower the temperature, support for political violence has increased over the past two years, the survey shows. Today about 23% of Americans 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.

The PRRI has asked this question in eight separate surveys since March 2021 but this is the first time that support for political violence has risen above 20% in the general population.

One in three Republicans believe that “true American patriots” may have to resort to violence to save the country, compared with 22% of independents and 13% of Democrats – all representing increases since 2021. Almost one in three white evangelical Protestants believe that patriots may have to resort to political violence to save the country, markedly higher than any other religious group.

Support for political violence jumps to even higher levels among Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump (46%); Americans who hold a favourable view of Trump (41%); Americans who believe in the so-called “replacement theory” (41%); 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 political temperature in America is rising, and this year’s American Values Survey results reflect that reality,” said PRRI’s 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.”

Trump, facing 91 criminal charges in four jurisdictions, has used ever more violent rhetoric in recent months, prompting warnings that such discourse is becoming normalised. The former president falsely claimed the former joint chiefs of staff chairman Gen Mark Milley committed “treason” and suggested he be executed, called for police to shoot shoplifters on sight and claimed that migrants illegally crossing the southern border are “poisoning the blood of our country”.

Trump, who denies without evidence that he lost the 2020 election, is the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. The PRRI study found three in four Americans say the future of democracy is at risk in next year’s election. Democrats (84%) are most likely to hold this view but 77% of Republicans and 73% of independents also agree.

PRRI has also been tracking the QAnon conspiracy movement 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 remain twice as likely as Democrats to be QAnon believers (29% v 14%) and are three times less likely to be QAnon rejecters (14% v 43%).

The survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,525 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted online between 25 and 30 August.