1 in 6 committed Republicans would support a violent pro-Trump coup
New estimates on partisan support for political violence
The Republican party is descending into fanaticism.
Experts and observers — myself among them — have noted with alarm the growing acceptance of authoritarianism and political violence in the mainstream Republican party. In the past year alone, we’ve seen:
Trump loyalists attacking and overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to disrupt ballot-counting;
Election workers across the country resigning or seeking protection due to threats and intimidation from Trump supporters;
The embrace of violent, dehumanizing rhetoric by Republican voters and officials;
Enthusiastic Republican endorsement of the vigilantism of Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two people during a chaotic protest against police violence in Wisconsin and successfully claimed self-defense at trial;
Numerous surveys showing an alarming willingness among Republicans to endorse violence for political ends.
On that last point, some of those surveys have been subject to criticism that they overstate support for political violence in general. People may simply be expressing the depth of their partisanship, for instance, and telling an anonymous web form that you’re okay with violently overthrowing the opposition doesn’t necessarily mean a person is willing to go out into the street to do just that.
So a group of academic political scientists with Bright Line Watch, a watchdog that measures public attitudes toward democracy, recently ran a survey experiment attempting to suss out support for political violence in its most narrow and concrete form. They polled support for specific acts of aggression and violence, like reinstating Donald Trump via a violent coup. They tailored response options in order to more accurately differentiate between people who actively support violence and those who are simply ambivalent about it. And they also screened respondents based on their attentiveness to the survey, as inattentive survey responders appear to endorse violence at an unusually high rate, suggesting they’re just clicking through rapidly and saying “yes” to everything.
The end result is a measurement for partisan support for political violence that is about as narrow and strict as one could hope for. And the results are still incredibly terrifying.
We’ll start with the basics: across the board, Republicans are much more likely to endorse political violence than Democrats. Roughly 1-in-7 Republicans say it’s okay to send “threatening and intimidating messages” to leaders of the Democratic party. Just 6 percent of Democrats endorse doing this to Republican leaders. About 6 percent of Republicans say violence will be justified if their party loses the 2024 election, compared to around 3 percent of Democrats. And more than one in ten Republicans say “the use of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency,” which is poli-sci speak for “I would support a literal violent coup.”
One in ten Republicans may not seem like a big number. But there are about 260 million adults in the U.S., and 47 percent of them identify with or lean toward the Republican party, according to Gallup. That means you’re looking at somewhere upward of 10 million willing to go along with a violent coup. If you’re a would-be authoritarian leader, those are the brown shirts and foot soldiers who will intimidate your opposition and take to the streets at your command.
Consider also that it only took a few thousand Trumpist lunatics to storm the Capitol in January. “Even small numbers of people who encourage or engage in violence can have dangerous and destabilizing effects on our political system,” the report’s authors write.
Alas, it gets even worse. Bright Line Watch looked at how responses to the questions of violence differed with the strength of respondents’ partisanship — are people who more strongly identify with a party more likely to endorse violence on that party’s behalf? Among Democrats the answer is an emphatic “no.” There was basically no difference between support for violent measures among “strong” and “not strong” Democratic partisans. In fact, on a couple of questions about explicitly non-violent forms of political mischief, like committing non-violent felonies and misdemeanors in support of your cause, support was lowest among the most committed Democrats. Strongly associating oneself with the party, in other words, has a moderating effect on one’s willingness to break the law in support of your political goals.
Among Republicans, however, the very opposite is true.
Just two percent of those who don’t consider themselves strong Republicans said that violence would be justified in the event of a GOP loss in 2024. Among the strongest GOP partisans, that number jumped to nearly 10 percent. And among the strongest partisans, support for violently reinstating Trump as president — doing a coup, in other words — was more than three times higher (17 percent) than it was among the least committed (5 percent).
The Republican party, in other words, has a radicalizing, destabilizing effect on its members, making them more likely to endorse explicit acts of violence in order to achieve its political objectives.
The survey presents the clearest picture yet of the intellectual and moral corruption of the modern Republican party, something with absolutely no parallel on the Democratic side of the aisle. It’s a party in thrall to an autocratic buffoon who encourages the basest, most violent instincts of his supporters. It’s almost funny — imagine selling your political soul to a guy who congratulates himself for passing a test of basic cognitive function!
But unfortunately, autocratic buffoons have a surprisingly good track record when it comes to grifting their way into power. Often, all it takes is a few million people willing commit violent acts on behalf of their dear leader.
More from The Why Axis on the Republican party’s descent into madness:
Correction: A previous version of this post rendered “brown shirts” as “brown shits.” The Why Axis does not particularly regret this error and finds it pretty funny, actually.