December 2023 Church & State Magazine - December 2023

Support for politically based violence inching up in America, poll finds


A poll released in late October by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution contains a disturbing finding: Support for political violence is on the upswing in America — and it’s often tied to conservative religious beliefs.

According to the poll, 23% of Americans said they agree with the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country.” In 2021, only 15% embraced that idea.

Religion News Service (RNS) reported, “One-third of white evangelical Protestants support the idea, significantly more than any other religious group.”

The poll found that Americans who embrace conspiracy theories, specifically the belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, are more likely to support the use of political violence (46%) than those who reject those claims (13%). 

Among those Americans who buy into the extreme and racist “Great Replacement Theory,” which holds that immigrants and/or Jews are working to “replace” white Americans, 41% support the use of political violence.

The survey also found that 33% of Americans believe God gave America to European Christians as a promised land where they could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world. As RNS reported, “More than half of white evangelical Protestants agree with this statement; 77% believe the founders intended to create a Christian nation. Americans who believed God wanted the U.S. to be a promised land for European Christians in turn are more likely (39%) to support the use of political violence to save the country than those who disagree (16%).”

PRRI also gauged Americans’ acceptance of QAnon beliefs, a bizarre conspiracy theory that posits the existence of a global elite of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who engineer world events. The survey found that 23% of Americans accept QAnon tenets, and among white evangelical Protestants, the number is 30%.

Americans United commented on these findings on its “Wall of Separation” blog, noting, “Most Americans want to try to find common ground with their neighbors and look for ways to move the country forward. That will be challenging when poll results like this indicate that a certain percentage of our fellow citizens are wedded to a virulent form of extremism nurtured by bad history and insane ideas. It’s difficult to build a bridge to individuals whose goal is to burn everything down.”

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