Poll: 25% Think Anti-Government Violence Sometimes Justified

Poll: 25% Think Anti-Government Violence Sometimes Justified Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 31 January 2022 09:42 AM

Almost a quarter of Americans believe that using violence against the government can be justified in some circumstances, and one in 19 say the use of violence is justified "right now," according to a new poll.

The COVID States Project usually asks questions about policy preferences and behaviors, but in its latest survey, conducted with 23,000 people across the country, asked if violence against the government is ever justified, and liberals and conservatives agreed that sometimes it is, reports NPR.

COVID States Project co-director David Lazer said the responses are in line with how American history is taught.

"We begin with the American Revolution against an illegitimate government and so we are, in a sense, taught from grade school that it is at some points in history justifiable to engage in violent protest," said Lazer.

The organization typically asks respondents questions more in line with the pandemic response, such as whether they understand which masks offer more protection or how respondents feel about vaccine mandates, but Lazer said the questions about violence aren't too far removed from those about COVID, particularly considering the 2020 election.

"Obviously how people voted was determined in part by COVID," he said. "We see it all in part as a package with what has happened over the last two years to American society."

Meanwhile, the poll found that two-thirds of the people who believe violent protests are justified said the federal government is an appropriate target while one-third of them said state governments should be the target.

The findings are consistent with other recent polling, according to Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

A University of Chicago poll last year found that almost one out of every 10 Americans believed it was justified to use force to restore former President Donald Trump to office, and in December, a poll by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland determined one in three people think it's sometimes justified to use violence against the government.

Some researchers said such polls could overstate Americans' support for political violence.

Sean Westwood, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, commented that when trying to measure violence, some polls have questions that are "as general as possible to try and capture as much support as possible," and that could lead to over-counting people who support political violence.

Survey questions also don't include context, he said.

"There are a lot of instances we can think of where violent protests against the government could very well be justified," such as the Warsaw Ghetto riots against the Nazis or the civil rights movement in the U.S., said Westwood.

Christian Davenport, a professor at the University of Michigan and a research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, also said he doesn't agree with the results of such polls, as "individuals will say a great number of things on a poll but never show up for anything."