Skip to main content

Those of us who follow politics may have realized that things have gotten more hostile. People in the Democratic and Republican parties dislike each other more than in past generations. Government shutdowns occur more frequently because politicians in congress are unwilling to compromise. In some cases, violence even emerges, such as the attack on the US capitol on January 6th, 2021. At this point you may be wondering “what does the heated political environment have to do with my health?”. It turns out there are some health scientists who follow politics to see if there might be outbreaks of violence. While much rarer than other types of diseases, violence obviously harms human health. When mass violence occurs in wars or riots, hospitals have to be ready to treat those who are hurt. Local clinics and doctors may also see more patients to manage wounds as they heal. In other words. a hostile political climate could turn into a public health crisis. A group of scientists have been tracking the US political climate in recent years for warning signs of mass violence. A recent study by this group reveals good news: the number of Americans’ who favor using violence to achieve their political goals has decreased since 20221. However, it is still something to keep an eye on.  

In this study, the researchers sent out a survey to thousands of US citizens around the country. By the end of the study, they received responses from 9,385 US adults. These responses came from a nationally representative sample of the US populations, which gives a good picture of what the whole US population thinks. The survey asked participants whether they believed violence was justified to achieve their political goals. To get more precise data, the survey asked participants to reflect on 17 political causes and asked them whether they thought violence was justified to advance each of these causes. For example, one question asked whether it was justified to use violence to stop the government from taking private land, while others asked if violence was justified to change immigration laws. Some questions were more general too. For example, one question asked whether violence was justified “to oppose Americans who do not share my beliefs”. 

Survey respondents who said they thought violence was justified for one or more political causes were then asked about particular types of violence. Specifically, they were asked whether they thought it was okay to damage property, injure people, or kill people to achieve their goals. The survey also asked respondents whether they planned to arm themselves with a gun and whether they expected to use a gun while pursuing their goals.  

The survey was sent out at two different times to see if people’s attitudes towards political violence changed from 2022 to 2023. The data from the 2023 survey found that American’s support for political violence decreased. 1 in 4 said that violence was justified for achieving a political goal. This was a 7% decrease from 2022. Support for violence was even lower once respondents were asked to imagine specific details. No more than 3% of respondents said they supported damaging property, intimidation, injuring, or killing in the name of their political cause. However, the study did show a concerning trend around firearms. 1 out of every 10 people said they would arm themselves with a gun to achieve their political goals, a slight increase. In addition, about 2% of respondents envisioned they might use a gun in the near future to fight for their political goals.  

Overall, the study shows that most American’s detest violence. Even when thinking about their passionate beliefs about right and wrong in society, the vast majority of adults said it was still not acceptable to engage in violence of any kind. Even those who did say violence was justified mostly did not want to engage in violence themselves. This is good news for our health and our society. Violence doesn’t just put our lives in danger, but it makes it impossible for everyday people to have a say in government. In societies where violence is the norm, whoever has the most guns and is most willing to use them will control people’s lives. However, a society in which violence is shunned allows people of different backgrounds to have a say in public decision making. Still, a small but notable minority of people in the study said they would be prepared to use a gun in pursuit of their political goals. For now, doctors and health scientists will keep an eye on the political climate and hope that it cools down more.  


Nationally Representative Sample – This is a sample that includes people of all different ages, racial or ethnic backgrounds, education levels, and regions of a country. The goal of a nationally representative sample is to get an idea of the trends that are going on in the whole country. If the sample of people surveyed has the same make-up as the country, then the sample is representative. For example, if 36% of the US population is from the South, then 36% of the people in your nationally representative sample need to be from the South. 


  1. Wintemute GJ, Robinson SL, Crawford A, et al. Single-year change in views of democracy and society and support for political violence in the USA: findings from a 2023 nationally representative survey. Inj Epidemiol. 2024;11(1):20. doi:10.1186/s40621-024-00503-7 
Health & Social Services
Blog Post
Public Health
A black and white photo of a crowd of people yelling at a protest in an unspecific street.