Political violence is on the rise in the United States. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, was attacked in his San Fransisco home by an assailant who hoped to kidnap and torture Nancy Pelosi.
This is the latest attack in a string of politically-motivated threats. In June 2022, a Wisconsin judge was killed in his home by a gunman who was found with a list of other targets, including Mitch McConnel and Democratic Governors Tony Evans and Gretchen Whitmer. And, on October 26, 2022, three men who aided in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were sentenced.
The increase isn’t just a rush of timely headlines. Axios obtained data from the Capitol Police showing the number of threats against politicians increasing annually from 2017 through 2021. This doesn’t include the threats against election officials that the January 6 committee has documented. The most notable example is Shaye Moss, who testified to the January 6 committee that she had to flee her home and that a mob of Trump supporters raided her grandmother’s house searching for her.
However, concern about rising political violence remains one-sided. A FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll released on October 27 found that 56% of likely Democratic voters were most concerned about political extremism or polarization compared to 34% of the sample overall.
Economic concerns still dominate voters’ minds leading up to the midterms. That gives the Republicans a strong chance to retake both chambers of Congress. The Democrats have some hope of holding onto the Senate, but that chance continues to dwindle.
Why Political Violence Isn’t a Bigger Price Mover
PredictIt’s balance of power market is showing a 71-cent price for a Republican sweep of Congress. The price of a Republican House and Democratic Senate is only 26 cents. PredictIt users found Republican control of both chambers more likely in the second half of October. Inflation remains high, and a recession looks increasingly likely. That’s bad news for the incumbent party, which gets too much credit for the state of the economy.
While political violence is something out of sight of most voters, families feel inflation when they buy food for their kids. When they try to buy homes or take out student loans, everyday voters feel the impact of interest rate increases. Economic issues have an immediacy that voters respond to.
Political violence begins with a slow burn of threats that escalates out of view until it suddenly hurts or kills someone. But if the most violent group controls the vote, then the most violent people will rise to power.
Whether it’s the Bolsheviks ousting the Mensheviks or Hitler’s Nazi Party assassinating conservative opponents, political violence doesn’t limit itself to the opposing side of the political spectrum. Politically violent parties cannibalize their own side as well.
It’s a warning that Republicans like Rusty Bowers in Arizona have already seen. Armed protesters with everything from pistols to armored trucks have threatened his home. Bowers testified about the Trump campaign’s efforts to illegally flip Arizona for Trump. The backlash to his pro-democratic stance is a warning to a party that has invited a large anti-democratic faction to power.
Rejecting Political Violence at the Polls
While political violence is unlikely on Election Day, it’s a credible threat. It’s even more likely while the ballots are being counted and as results are being finalized. The January 6 attack on the Capitol emboldened extremist groups. They learned that in sufficient numbers and with presidential support, they could storm one of the most seemingly secure buildings in the United States. Local election offices stand little chance against such an onslaught.
Some states, especially battleground states, have introduced alert tools or increased funding for protection. But it falls to every American to oppose political violence. Voters can report threatening individuals they know of to law enforcement. Reasonable voters can also volunteer as election workers. Finally, voters can reject leaders who stoke the kinds of resentment that encourage political violence.
The midterms aren’t just about congressional control or state initiatives. It’s a chance for voters to reject the 190 election deniers running for the House and 14 election deniers running for the Senate. It’s also one of the last chances Republican voters have to back pro-democracy candidates rather than election deniers, conspiracy theorists, or potentially violent mob leaders.