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Could 2020 get even worse in November?

Primary ballots are organized at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 2, 2020. “What actually ends up happening after Election Day could be a test of this generation’s loyalty to long-standing American traditions,” writes Jay Evensen in the Deseret News Opinion section. “Just to be safe, we might want to hope for a landslide decision, for one side or the other.”
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Pollsters say there is a big difference between telling someone on the phone that you would support violence in the streets as a reaction to this November’s election and actually picking up a brick or some other weapon and using it.

Well, thank goodness for that, but it hardly makes me sleep better at night.

If you thought 2020 had gotten about as bad as it could get, you might be wrong. Researchers at the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group asked 5,900 voters how they would feel about election-related violence. They found 21% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats said at least a “moderate” amount of it would be appropriate if their presidential candidate didn’t win.

But 10% of Republicans and 9% of Democrats said they would support “a lot” of violence. The survey didn’t define the difference between moderate and a lot. One can imagine it lies somewhere between breaking windows and killing people.

Either way, it doesn’t sound much like America.

Unlike most other polls, this one is an ongoing survey of the same voters, trying to capture how Americans change their feelings over time. It was the first time this particular question had been asked, so thanks for floating the suggestion.

The survey also found that 38% of Democrats would want another election if Joe Biden lost the Electoral College but won the popular vote, while 29% of Republicans would support Donald Trump refusing to leave office if he lost but claimed it was because of voter fraud.

And if you’re not already checking your deadbolts and Googling metal window protectors, 13% said they would be OK with the military suspending elections, closing down Congress and taking control of everything in order to root out corruption.

It’s easy right now to rattle law-abiding Americans. Few of them expected our relatively placid everyday life of low unemployment and robust prosperity to dissolve within a matter of weeks into a pandemic-induced lockdown with Great Depression-era unemployment, followed swiftly by widespread protests and violence aimed at systemic racism. Many people have become suddenly aware of how fragile civilization’s veneer can be when exposed to the right stresses.

That fragility ought to put the American experiment into a sharper focus. It was George Washington, the first president, who set the remarkable precedent for peacefully transferring power in the United States. He not only declined to run for a third term, during the inauguration of his successor, John Adams, he insisted on being the last to leave Congress Hall after the swearing in, walking behind Adams and the new vice president, Thomas Jefferson.

In recounting this highly symbolic scene, the website offthegridnews.com said, “This was the first time in human political history that power was transferred between two common citizens without the death or violent overthrow of the person losing power.”

If the United States loses that unique tradition, which has withstood transfers between some noteworthy political foes, it will have lost something precious and difficult to recover.

But take heart. Surveys such as these can be viewed two ways. It’s equally true that the vast majority of Americans, 77% in this survey, say they support democracy over any other form of government, while 87% said a democratic political system is a good way to govern the country. Also, when asked to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, 80% rated living in a democratic country at least an 8.

We haven’t all gone to the dogs, yet.

Of course, there are a couple of other things to consider. The first is that this survey was done before the coronavirus pandemic. It took six months to compile the data. The other is that this isn’t the only survey to raise questions about November’s election. A Pew Research Center poll in April found two-thirds of Americans are worried the pandemic will disrupt the ability to vote, something borne out in a few recent state primary elections.

And, as the Democracy Fund people note, angry protesters (some of them armed) managed to force the Michigan Legislature to cancel its session in April after storming the statehouse in protest of a stay-at-home order.

What actually ends up happening after Election Day could be a test of this generation’s loyalty to long-standing American traditions. Just to be safe, we might want to hope for a landslide decision, for one side or the other.