CHICAGO (CN) — A new University of Chicago poll found that over a quarter of a deeply alienated American public, particularly those who identify as Republican, believe that it may “soon be necessary to take up arms” against the government.
The poll, a collaboration between Republican and Democratic pollsters Neil Newhouse and Joel Benenson, respectively, surveyed 1,000 registered voters around the U.S.. A slight majority of those, 56%, said they believed the government was corrupt and “rigged against everyday people like me,” with self-identified Republicans polling substantially higher on that question than Democrats.
In total, 28% of voters agreed with the statement “it may be necessary at some point soon for citizens to take up arms against the government.” That skewed heavily toward Republicans, with one in three Republicans and 45% of self-identified “strong Republicans” agreeing with the statement. The GOP doesn’t hold a monopoly on the sentiment, though – one in five Democrats agreed, as did 35% of self-identified independent voters.
The belief in armed resistance was loosely correlated with actual gun ownership. About 37% of those who said they had guns in their homes also agreed with the “taking up arms” statement.
“These really are stunning results, that really go to the depth of the nation’s partisan divide and the extent to which Americans really don’t trust the media to provide unbiased information,” Newhouse said in an interview. “The bottom line is, it’s worse out there than we thought.”
Newhouse also pointed to the impact of political divides on Americans’ personal lives.
“The data really shows that it has personal consequences,” he said. “People have lost friends. They’ve avoided discussions about politics. They’ve quit social media, they’ve stopped buying a brand because of their partisan views…. They have taken action because of their political experiences.”
Nineteen percent of those polled said that a friend or relative had broken off relationships with them because of politics. Newhouse also drew attention to the 25% of respondents who said the polarization had made them physically ill and to the 8% who said they had sought therapy because of it.
“It wasn’t a huge number, but shit, 8%?” he said. “That’s pretty remarkable.”
Newhouse also drew attention to the respondents’ own words on the divisions, which showed each side of the political spectrum looking at the other with near-identical suspicion and hostility.
“They’re mirror images of each other. That’s really interesting,” he said. “They’re ticked off at the other side, they don’t trust them, they think they’re pushing misinformation and that they’re bullies about what they believe.”
For political science professor David Schultz of St. Paul’s Hamline University, none of this came as a surprise. “It pretty much confirms what many other polls, what pop culture, what the media’s been telling us: that we live in two different partisan worlds, with each side having its own facts, its own bubbles, its own visions of the world,” he said.
As far as armed insurrection goes, Schultz noted that there wasn’t much historical data on the question to compare it to. “What I would be curious to know is, if we had asked that question 20 or 30 years ago, what the numbers would have been. I have no idea,” he said.
He added, “I’m guessing if I went back to the 1960s and talked to people who were in the John Birch Society, the Weathermen and some others, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had high numbers then.”
Schultz cracked wise about his own cynicism when asked if there were ways to reduce political division. The most likely route out, he said, was somewhat grim.
“A lot of people need to die,” he said. “Part of what’s going on here is that we have an enormous generational divide.”
The year 2020 marked the first time in 20 years where Baby Boomers did not make up the majority of voters, he said, and while two other possibilities he pointed to – a reduction in the country’s widening income gap or radical changes in corporate media ownership – are unlikely, generational shifts are inevitable.
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