Supporters of former President Donald Trump are more likely to endorse political violence and have positive assessments of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, according to new findings published in American Politics Research. The study provides evidence that these individuals are also motivated by racial animus and anti-foreigner attitudes, which partially explain their heightened acceptance of political violence.
According to the authors of the study, recent public opinion polls in the United States have shown that there is significant support for political violence among the population. They noted that a survey conducted in December 2021 found that 34% of Americans believed that taking violent action against the government is justified.
The survey also revealed a partisan divide, with 40% of Republicans considering political violence justifiable compared to 23% of Democrats. These findings align with previous surveys that indicate an increasing acceptance of political violence in the United States. With this in mind, the researchers hoped to shed light on the underlying factors that influence attitudes towards political violence.
To examine the association between approval of Trump and endorsement of political violence, the researchers conducted a survey of U.S. adults between September 6 and 16, 2021. Their final sample consisted of 1,909 respondents. The survey included questions to measure respondents’ perceptions of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and their endorsement of violence more generally to achieve political objectives or send political messages.
Respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the job Trump did when he was in office. The researchers also asked about respondents’ approval of current President Joe Biden to provide a contrasting picture of the impact of presidential performance attitudes on January 6 and political violence.
The researchers controlled for the possibility that some respondents who previously supported Trump might have changed their opinions by including a variable for former Trump supporters who currently disapproved of his performance.
The study also included a mediator variable, which measured respondents’ racist and xenophobic attitudes. The researchers used questions to assess racism and xenophobia, combining the responses into an index where higher scores indicated higher levels of racism and xenophobia.
Respondents who expressed higher levels of approval for Trump were more likely to use positive words such as “peaceful” and “a good thing” to describe the storming of the Capitol on January 6. They were also more likely to express support for statements such as “Some of the problems citizens have with the government could be fixed with a few well-aimed bullets.”
Racism and xenophobia were found to mediate the effects of Trump approval on these attitudes. Respondents who approved of Trump were more likely to agree that “racial, religious or other minority groups are too demanding in their push for equal rights.” They were also more likely to express negative attitudes towards foreigners and immigrants. These racist and xenophobic attitudes, in turn, were associated with a propensity to use positive words to describe January 6 and participants and to view political violence as acceptable.
Interestingly, the researchers found that former Trump supporters tended to have a negative view of the January 6 riot. However, their change in opinion didn’t appear to significantly affect their support for political violence. The researchers said further investigation is needed to understand why this group has a different perspective on January 6 but not on political violence in general.
The researchers included several control variables in their analysis to account for demographic and attitudinal factors that might influence respondents’ attitudes toward January 6 and the acceptability of political violence.
These control variables included age, gender, household income, employment status, education level, partisan affiliation, political ideology, racial identification, religion, religiosity, engagement in political activities, media consumption, and region of residence in the United States. They also controlled for respondents’ level of trait aggression.
“Our findings are robust to the inclusion of a number of significant controls and to different model specifications. They strongly suggest that an important component of the relationship between Trump approval and the normalization of political violence is, indeed, hate,” the researchers wrote.
But there are some important caveats to note. First, the study does not establish a causal relationship between Trump support and tolerance of political violence. It’s possible that Trump inspires his supporters to view political violence as more acceptable, but it’s also possible that individuals who are already tolerant of political violence are attracted to Trump.
Additionally, other unstudied mediators like erosion of trust in political elites and institutions, denigration of democratic values, and political polarization could help explain the relationship between Trump approval and attitudes towards political violence.
The study, “It’s About Hate: Approval of Donald Trump, Racism, Xenophobia and Support for Political Violence“, was authored by James Piazza and Natalia Van Doren.