Americans Say To Meet Political Agendas, Rights May Be Left Behind

October 20, 2023 By Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu

Americans are willing to give up some constitutional rights, like freedom of speech, to maintain what they believe is best for their political party, a new nationwide study by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia shows.

The study also paints a clear picture of how much suspicion exists between political party faithful, with roughly seven in 10 respondents agreeing at least somewhat that electing officials from the opposite party would cause lasting harm to the United States.

“The nation’s stark divisions are deeply worrying, and there is a ‘winner takes all’ mentality that unfortunately can override traditional American values, like freedom of speech and expression,” Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, said.

The study involved 2,008 registered voters surveyed between Aug. 25 and Sept. 11 of this year. It’s the initial phase of a series of surveys by the Center for Politics’ Project Home Fire to gauge sentiments as the 2024 presidential race looms.

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“A big takeaway is that respect for bedrock American values, such as freedom of speech and expression, isn’t as strong as it arguably could or should be,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the Center for Politics. “A considerable number of Americans seem willing to push or even break legal guardrails, if that means getting what they want.”

Of those who answered the survey, 52% said they plan to vote for Biden and 48% for Trump, mirroring the 2020 election results. Biden saw 40% approval and 50% disapproval among respondents, while 39% approved and 53% disapproved of Trump.

Voters leaned toward voting for Democrats (40) over Republicans% (35%) in all races iin 2024, with 25% opting for middle ground, prioritizing qualifications over affiliations, the survey shows.

The survey showed about 69% of respondents at least somewhat agreed with the statement “Democracy is preferable to any non-democratic form of government.” But a significant number had doubts about democracy’s future and even the country’s future.

About 41% of respondents who lean toward support of former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election at least somewhat agreed with the idea of more conservative, or red states, seceding from the union to form their own separate country. About 30% of Biden supporters felt similar about more liberal states.

Larry Sabato

Larry Sabato, the director of UVA’s Center for Politics, believes the study shows a growing disregard for many fundamental freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

The fate of democracy in the U.S. is seen as bleak by 31% of Trump supporters and about 24% of Biden supporters, who said that democracy is no longer a viable system and that the country should explore alternative forms of government to ensure stability and progress.

Mistrust between Biden and Trump supporters is rampant. Around half of Trump and Biden supporters view the opposition party as a threat to the American way of life. Two in five at least somewhat agreed that their political beliefs and values are a significant part of their identity, to the point where they consider voting for the other side as being disloyal to the people they care about.

Political beliefs are a significant part of personal identity for 40% of Biden supporters and 39% of Trump supporters, who said voting for a candidate from the other party would be “disloyal to the people I care about,” the study showed.

More concerning is the roughly 40% of Biden and Trump supporters who at least somewhat believed that it is acceptable to use violence to thwart the other party. That could be hyperbole, however.

“There is a body of respected research on whether people say that it is acceptable to use political violence, with many researchers noting that such tendencies can be overstated, and that may be the case with our research here,” Kondik said.

The survey included another question on political violence, but asked in a different way: “No matter how extreme I may think people who support [the other party] have become, it is not acceptable to use violence to stop them from achieving their goals.” That question met with approval from both sides of the divide, with about 14% of Trump supporters and about 12% of Biden supporters disagreeing with the statement.

While there may be less support for political violence, that is still a significant number of Americans expressing some openness to violence, Kondik said.

“It is concerning that at least the threat of violence remains a factor in American politics, with just the latest example coming in the past few days, when some House members reported receiving death threats over who they planned to support in the ongoing speaker vote.”

Kyle Kondick

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the Center for Politics, said the survey indicates many Americans are apparently willing to break legal guardrails to get what they want in politics. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The survey indicated a the political divide in support of constitutional rights from freedom of speech to keeping and bearing firearms. When asked about limiting rights to safeguard the feelings and safety of marginalized groups, 31% of Biden supporters and 25% of Trump supporters would at least consider limits.

Views considered discriminatory or offensive should be restricted or regulated, according to 47% of Biden’s supporters and 35% of Trump’s, according to the survey.

Only 35% of expected Trump voters agreed with restricting the number and types of firearms regardless of constitutional interpretation, while 74% of likely Biden voters agreed with restricting guns.

Other results include:

  • Suspending elections: In times of crisis, 30% of Trump supporters believe in suspending elections while 25% of Biden supporters agree.
  • Wealth redistribution: Addressing income inequality by redistributing all wealth above a set limit was supported by 56% of Biden voters and 39% of Trump voters.
  • National symbols and leaders: Half of Trump voters and just under a third of Biden voters at least somewhat agreed with laws requiring citizens to show respect for national symbols and leaders.
  • Corporate diversity: Nearly seven of 10 Biden voters believe in requiring corporations to ensure diversity at all levels of leadership, compared to 43% of Trump voters.
  • Presidential powers: Concerning national security decisions, 37% of Trump voters favored giving the president authority to bypass Congress, compared to 31% of Biden voters.
  • Protest regulations: 45% of Trump supporters and 30% of Biden supporters agreed with laws to limit demonstrations and protests that the government deems potentially disruptive to public order.
  • Monitoring religious groups: An almost identical number of Biden (37%) and Trump (36%) voters at least somewhat agreed on the need for certain religious groups to be limited or monitored by the government to ensure national security.
  • Patriotism and loyalty: 37% of Trump voters versus 24% of Biden voters supported the idea of laws restricting the expression of views deemed unpatriotic or disloyal.

“What is most concerning about this study is the mainstream acceptance of authoritarian means to achieve preferred political outcomes,” said Larry Schack, co-founder of Project Home Fire. “This trend is no longer limited to a specific individual or a substantial minority. It now extends to both Biden and Trump voters, indicating a willingness to bypass democratic norms in pursuit of their respective goals.”

When asked about immigration concerns, 78% of Biden voters and 58% of Trump voters agreed that reform was needed to “humanely address the needs of undocumented immigrants and enrich our society’s diversity.”

At the same time, 70% of Trump voters and 32% of Biden voters agreed with restricting illegal immigrants’ access to employment and essential services.

Additionally, majorities of Biden (85%) and Trump (55%) voters agreed that “school curriculum should include teaching about systemic injustices and the negative aspects of our nation’s history.”

Simultaneously, more than half of Trump supporters and a little more than a quarter of Biden’s agreed that “public schools should be required to teach civic education that emphasizes patriotism and de-emphasizes any negative aspects of our nation’s history.”

Officials are continuing to analyze the study and more results are expected in the coming months, officials said.

“We’re going to be continuing to study these trends as we head into the 2024 elections,” Kondik said.

Media Contact

Bryan McKenzie

Assistant Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications