A new survey from The Lincoln Democracy Institute shows the threat of election violence is growing as political extremism has become normalized. The findings were part of the Democracy Index, a new research project of the American electorate meant to determine what drives political extremism and how to refine political engagement to oppose radicalized forces intent on destroying our democratic values.
Astonishingly, one in ten Americans believe that violence is acceptable in a democracy, with three out of four coming from the right. This acceptance of violence is part of a broader escalation of extremism seen on both sides of the political spectrum. Approximately 25% of all Americans meet the definition of “political extremist” with another third able to be considered “emerging extremists”.
Nearly half of all Americans view individuals with opposing political viewpoints as “untrustworthy enemies” and don’t believe that elections are conducted fairly.
“The radicalization of the American electorate is well under way, placing our democracy on a dangerous precipice,” said Erin Dobson, Executive Director of the Lincoln Democracy Institute. “This upcoming election is likely to be the most divisive since the Civil War, placing our institutions under dire threat. Government officials and journalists need to build confidence in the system by demanding accountability for election deniers and remaining vigilant against threats to our election processes.”
The survey found that extremism is born out of increasing polarization and the normalizing of extremist rhetoric. The right and left deal with their competing worldviews by directing their anger at the “other side”. Long-standing generational divides further feed into this: the baby boomers are more likely to be extremist and have ideological divides than any other generation. Other divides include generational experiences such as the end of the Cold War, relationships with technology, and the propensity to embrace cultural change.
This is all being fed by a new right wing media ecosystem that plays off the fears of its viewers and pushes them towards radicalization. Particularly troublesome is the new right extremist media that promotes election denialism and frequently pushes false narratives designed to anger their audience and the MAGA base.
“As the electorate is becoming more politically extremist, and some are radicalizing the threat of violence is growing exponentially,” said Trygve Olson, Survey author and Lincoln Democracy Institute Senior Advisor. “The lack of belief that a fair election is possible in 2024 is setting the stage for wholesale rejection of the results that could lead to violence during and after the election. This is a critical moment for democracy and it is imperative that the nation respond to the moment by supporting our democratic institutions and calling out bad actors.”
To solve this crisis and help the nation make it through 2024, the nation needs to recognize the damage that election denial is having on our democracy and marginalize the undemocratic actors who push this message in order to gain power for themselves.
There must be engagement with the small number of swing voters in battleground states who will actually determine the outcome of the election, to consistently inform them that democracy is literally on the ballot in 2024. Additionally, the enablers of extremism – the political leaders who make excuses or remain quiet on these issues – must be called out for their cowardice and refusal to put the national interest ahead of their own. The media has a role to play by acknowledging reality and refusing to engage in “bothsidesism”. It must confront false narratives and stop giving a platform to the worst participants in American life.
The survey was conducted after the 2022 election between February and April of 2023. Online interviews were conducted with over 17,000 registered voters nationally. The swing states of Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were over sampled. The survey was administered by QuestionPro, a leading global consumer research firm.
The Lincoln Democracy Institute (LDI) responds in real time to threats to our democracy. It repudiates the lies of the right wing media and pushes back against those who threaten to use violence. As the 501(c)(4) nonprofit affiliate of the Lincoln Project, LDI seeks to defeat the forces that imperil our democratic system, reminding Americans of the values that unite us and educating voters on a nonpartisan basis on the urgency for all of us to participate in the democratic process.
For more information on the Lincoln Democracy Institute, please contact: email@example.com