Survey paints scary, hopeful picture of U.S. political divide

Survey paints scary, hopeful picture of U.S. political divide

Survey paints scary, hopeful picture of U.S. political divide

A large group of Republicans, including those who trust far-right news sources, say violence may be necessary to solve the nation’s political divisions, a new survey shows.

A large group of Republicans, including those who trust far-right news sources, say violence may be necessary to solve the nation’s political divisions, a new survey shows.

Almost one of every three (30%) Republicans agree “true American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save the country,” the Public Religion Research Institute reported in the 12th annual American Values Survey, in partnership with the Brookings Institution.

Trailing Republicans in agreement with that belief were 18% of all Americans, 17% of Independents and 11% of Democrats.

When filtered according to favored news sources, 40% of respondents who most trust “far-right news” led all Americans who agreed with the pro-violence sentiment. It received support from 32% who trust Fox News and 22% of mainstream news consumers, the study showed.

The research covered a wide range of topics, including what it means to be an American, attitudes toward religious and ethnic diversity, and economic concerns. It also examined the spread of conspiracy theories, including persistent belief Democrats stole the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump.

Jan. 6 insurrection raises specter 

The revelation that nearly a third of Republicans believe patriots may need to resort to violence “is truly a stunning finding,” PRRI founder and CEO Robert P. Jones said in a webinar accompanying the survey’s release.

Several groups said they think political violence may be necessary. They included 39% of respondents who think the 2020 election was stolen, 29% of people who said they “feel like strangers in their own country” due to cultural changes, and 27% of Americans who believe “God has granted America a special role in human history.”

“White evangelical Protestants (26%) are the religious group most likely to agree that true American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save our country, while 23% of those who follow non-Christian religions, 22% of Hispanic Catholics, 19% of white Catholics, 19% of other Christians, 17% of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants, 16% of Black Protestants and 13% of religiously unaffiliated Americans agree,” the report noted.

Recent history necessitated the question regarding political violence, PRRI explained in the report. “After the violent attacks on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, the prospect of political violence threatening a peaceful transfer of power has become more than an abstract question.”

The survey broke down the political and cultural factors driving the impulse toward potential violence. They included increasing bipartisanship, as well as anxieties regarding perceptions of racial and ideological trends.

“Around three in 10 Americans (31%) say that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump,” the report said. “This share has remained steady throughout 2021, in August (29%), June (30%) and March (29%).

“More than two-thirds of Republicans (68%), compared to 26% of independents and 6% of Democrats, believe that the election was stolen from Trump. These shares are even greater among Republicans who most trust Fox News (82%) and essentially universal among those who most trust far-right news (97%). Less than half of Republicans who most trust mainstream news agree (44%).”

Evangelicals see most threats

In the survey, PRRI asked 2,500 Americans if they see cultural change as a threat to the American way of life.

As a whole, 41% of respondents agreed “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.” Republicans agreed with that statement most, at 56%, compared to 39% of Independents and 31% of Democrats.

Americans were roughly split regarding whether the nation is “in danger of losing its culture and identity,” PRRI found, with 52% agreeing and 45% disagreeing.

“There is nearly a 50-percentage-point gap between Republicans (80%) and Democrats (33%) on this question,” the report said. “Independents mirror all Americans closely (50% agree vs. 49% disagree). Nearly all Republicans who most trust far-right news outlets (98%) and Fox News (89%) agree that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.”

Faith and race also influence American attitudes on this issue, according to the survey. 

“White evangelical Protestants (78%) are the most likely to agree with the idea that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity, followed by 64% of white Catholics, 59% of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants, 58% of other Christians and 52% of Black Protestants,” the report said. “About four in 10 Hispanic Catholics (43%), members of non-Christian religions (37%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (35%) think the same.”

As a whole, 41% of respondents agreed “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

Meanwhile, white Americans, at 57%, were more likely than African Americans (49%) and Hispanics (43%) to believe change has diluted American identity. 

“Similar patterns also emerge on whether ‘the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence,’” the survey reported. “A majority of Americans (54%) agree with the statement, and these opinions have remained stable since 2013.”

But 56% of Americans told PRRI immigrants strengthen U.S. society, as opposed to 40% who perceive of newcomers as a threat.

“Republicans (28%) are less likely to have positive views of immigrants today than they were in 2018 (34%) and in 2011 (39%),” the report said. They “have grown more likely to believe that immigrants threaten American values (71% today, 65% in 2018 and 55% in 2011).” 

Those percentages spiked when filtered through favored news sources, PRRI added. “The vast majority of Republicans who most trust far-right media outlets (90%) and Fox News (80%) say newcomers threaten traditional American customs and values.”

Agreeing on national identity

Republicans, at 56%, were more likely than Democrats (29%) and Independents (48%) to say the U.S. has “made great progress in achieving true racial equality,” the survey found.

“Majorities of Black Protestants (70%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (63%), other Christians (59%), Hispanic Catholics (56%) and members of non-Christian groups (54%) disagree with this idea, while white Catholics (51% disagree) and white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants (48% disagree) are more divided,” according to the survey. 

Meanwhile, 43% of Americans said recent killings of African Americans by police “are isolated incidents,” compared to 54% who say these killings “are part of a broader pattern of how police treat Black Americans,” the report said.

A third of Americans said they have not heard of Critical Race Theory, which holds that racism is a systemic reality in society. 

“There are no significant differences among partisans, but Republicans who most trust far-right news outlets (37%) and Fox News (30%) are more likely than Republicans overall (20%) to say they have heard a lot about Critical Race Theory.”

The survey also uncovered areas of agreement among Americans, one being what U.S. children should be taught in schools. 

“Vast majorities of all demographic groups say that we should teach American history that includes both our best achievements and our worst mistakes as a country, including Republicans (80%), independents (86%) and Democrats (90%),” the report noted.

And nine out of 10 U.S. adults also said being “truly American” means believing in freedom of speech (95%), affirming freedom to vote in elections (93%) accepting racial and religious diversity (92%) and respecting political institutions and laws (91%), PRRI reported. 

“Just over four in 10 Americans believe that being Christian (43%, substantially down from 53% in 2015 and 39% in 2018) is somewhat or very important to being truly American,” the report said.

 

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