A survey by the American Enterprise Institute is receiving significant attention because of what it appears to say about Americans’ support for violence.

NPR’s “Morning Edition” reported Thursday that “politically motivated violence has the support of a significant share of the U.S. public, according to a new survey.”

The AEI survey found that nearly three in 10 Americans, including 39% of Republicans, agreed that, “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

At this point, the wording of that question should give us pause. What does “will not protect America” mean? The words “protect America” has various interpretations, depending on the listeners.

Nonetheless, the result was “a really dramatic finding,” according to Daniel Cox, director of the AEI Survey Center on American Life. “I think any time you have a significant number of the public saying use of force can be justified in our political system, that’s pretty scary.”

The AEI report was based on a survey of 2,016 U.S. adults conducted between Jan. 21 and Jan. 30.

The NPR report continues, “The survey found stark divisions between Republicans and Democrats on the 2020 presidential election, with two out of three Republicans saying President Biden was not legitimately elected, while 98% of Democrats and 73% of Independents acknowledged Biden’s victory.”

Other findings included:

• About 80% of Republicans said the current political system is “stacked against conservatives and people with traditional values.”

• A majority of Republicans agreed with the statement, “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”

• Overall, only one out of three Americans agreed with the use of violence in pursuit of political ends.

Cox emphasized that the findings of the poll reflect “attitudes and beliefs” rather than a disposition to do something.

“If I believe something, I may act on it, and I may not,” Cox says. “We shouldn’t run out and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, 40% of Republicans are going to attack the Capitol,’ But under the right circumstances, if you have this worldview, then you are more inclined to act in a certain way if you are presented with that option.”

Other findings:

• About three in five white evangelicals told the pollsters that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected, that it was not accurate to say Trump encouraged the attack on the Capitol, and that a Biden presidency now has them feeling disappointed, angry or frightened.

• In contrast, majorities of white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Catholics, followers of non-Christian religions and the religiously unaffiliated all viewed Biden’s victory as legitimate.

• 27% of white evangelicals said it was “mostly” or “completely” accurate to say Trump “has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.” That share was higher than for any other faith group and more than double the support for QAnon beliefs evident among Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics and non-Christians.

“As with a lot of questions in the survey, white evangelicals stand out in terms of their belief in conspiracy theories and the idea that violence can be necessary,” Cox says. “They’re far more likely to embrace all these different conspiracies.”

Our new online poll asks: When is political violence justified?

The four responses are: “in response to the violence of political opponents;” “to support my beliefs and rights;” “both of the above” and “never.”

Polls only provide a snapshot of public opinion and have many flaws. We welcome letters to the editor on the topic.

More than 600 people responded to our previous online poll: If Donald Trump starts a new political party, would you support it?

In response, 60.9% said no, 32.3% said “Yes, enthusiastically!” and the rest “Maybe.”

To vote and/or see the results of all polls go to kpcnews.com/polls.

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