Column: ‘Eye-popping’ new survey on Americans’ acceptance of political violence should be a wake-up call to leaders

A San Francisco police officer stands guard outside a home marked by yellow tape.
A San Francisco police officer stands guard in front of the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on Oct. 28 in San Francisco. Paul Pelosi, the congresswoman’s husband, was violently attacked in their home by an intruder.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Roughly 5 million Americans would be willing to kill someone to achieve a political purpose, according to a new UC Davis study.

“These are just eye-popping results,” says Garen Wintemute, who heads the university’s Violence Prevention Research Program.

“I have never seen [survey results] like this. We decided we had to get this paper out right away.”


And to think, most of us grew up proudly believing that one great thing about America was that we settled our political disputes at the ballot box — not with bombs or guns or a hammer.

That’s what distinguished our relatively peaceful democratic system from brutal authoritarian regimes.

But now we have many millions of Americans who don’t believe in the ballot box, our pillar post of democracy.

A poor loser president — a spoiled, rich brat bully — whines that the election was stolen from him. And millions of lemmings believe him. Republican leaders who surely know better accommodate the “Big Lie” because they’re scared of Donald Trump’s political hold on his worshippers.

The defeated president incites fellow Americans to attack the U.S. Capitol — a historic, shameful first — in an attempted insurrection aimed at overturning the election. It’s political violence taken to a new frightful level.

President Biden has defined MAGA Republicans as those who voted for Trump two years ago and — most importantly — deny that he lost legitimately. They’re not just wearing old red Trump baseball caps bearing the Make American Great Again mantra.


Here’s an example of how great America became after four years of Trump’s presidency: A right-wing conspiracy theorist is charged with breaking into the U.S. House speaker’s San Francisco home and bashing her 82-year-old husband’s head with a hammer, fracturing his skull. David DePape told investigators he planned to kidnap Nancy Pelosi and break her kneecaps, calling her the “leader of the pack” of supposed “lies” told by Democrats.

With the midterm elections days away, the president delivers a warning about political violence and the future of American democracy.

Nov. 2, 2022

The attack “was politically motivated,” San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins noted. Yep, we’ve had lots of that recently.

In July, Wintemute’s research team queried Americans on political violence, race and threats to democracy and found that, among the more than 8,600 surveyed, 51% believe there’ll be a civil war in the next several years.

Remarkably, 42% said it was more important to have a strong leader than a democracy.

And 19% agreed strongly that violence or force is needed to protect democracy “when elected leaders will not.”

Next, Wintemute decided to focus mainly on MAGA Republicans. But he also queried other Americans — Republicans and non-Republicans. That’s the study he just released.

He found that roughly 2% of those surveyed would be “very or completely willing” to kill someone to “advance an important political objective.”

Think about it: There are roughly 258 million adult Americans, Wintemute says. That means roughly 5 million people are willing to settle a political dispute by killing their opponent.

Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who studies violence, read the UC Davis report and observed:

Friday’s attack on Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, is the most recent example of the country’s increasing political violence.

Oct. 30, 2022

“When 3 to 5 million Americans voice willingness to consider concrete acts of violence such as assassination, America is at risk of stochastic terrorism — the idea that if MAGA leaders call for a target, it’s impossible to know who will answer the call or where or when, but [it’s] very probable that someone will.”

She added: “The current period feels like the 1830s when Abraham Lincoln noted that the only way the U.S. could be felled was ‘through suicide.’ We nearly reached it that time around.”

Based on Wintemute’s research, there are about 39 million MAGA Republicans — 15% of the adult population and one-third of the GOP. Not just Trump supporters, but also election deniers.

Wintemute found that MAGA Republicans aren’t any more inclined to personally use violence than other Americans, but they are much more likely to view political violence as justified.

“Support for political violence, even by people who won’t engage in it themselves, creates a climate of acceptance that makes it easy for people to go ahead and commit violence,” says Wintemute, a longtime firearms researcher and emergency room physician who treats gun wounds.

“I’m concerned about the possibility of violence next [election] week and in 2024,” he says.

“I’m worried about the people who aren’t willing to abide by the election results and at the same time are willing to try to force the results they want.”

MAGA Republicans are much more likely than other voters to believe that “armed citizens should patrol polling places,” the survey found.

They’re also more likely than other Republicans to think that having a strong leader is more important than having a democracy.

And there’s this one: They’re more likely — 27% of them — to strongly agree that “the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

More of them, 51%, also strongly believe that “native-born white people are being replaced by immigrants.” And 72% strongly believe that “discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against Blacks and other minorities.”

“There’s a growing group of disaffected — almost always white men — that truly believe the country is being stolen from them and their patriotic duty is to take back this country,” says UC San Diego political science professor Barbara Walter, an expert on international security.

“They see violence as a legitimate way to do that.”

A hammer attack should be a wake-up call for all political leaders, especially Trump puppets.