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A second civil war in the U.S.? 43% of Americans think it’s likely in the next 10 years

The foreboding feeling is greater among Republicans than Democrats and the overall population

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Insurrectionists try to break through a police barrier on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.

Insurrectionists try to break through a police barrier on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. Facing prison time and dire personal consequences for storming the U.S. Capitol, some Jan. 6 defendants are trying to profit from their participation in the deadly riot, using it as a platform to drum up cash, promote business endeavors and boost social media profiles.

Julio Cortez, Associated Press

Nearly one third of Americans think a second civil war in the U.S. is “somewhat likely” in the next 10 years, according to a new poll by The Economist and YouGov.

An overwhelming majority, 86%, also said the country has become more politically divided since the beginning of 2021, and 68% said they expect that to get even worse over the next few years.

How do people feel about the direction of the country? When it comes to the potential for politically motivated violence in the U.S., Republicans seem to be more pessimistic than Democrats. Half of Republicans, as well as those who voted for Donald Trump in previous elections, think a civil war is either “very likely” or “somewhat likely,” compared to 39% of Democrats (42% of the overall population agree).

Recent events like the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and threats against the FBI following the search of Mar-a-Lago have raised concerns of radical actions by partisans.

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., predicted there would be “riots in the streets” if former President Donald Trump is charged with mishandling classified documents.

While most Americans are not too worried about an actual civil war, many more believe the level of political violence will increase in the coming years. 

Of those polled, 62% said they expect political violence to increase in the next few years and 15% said they expect it to stay the same.

Only 9% said they expect violence to decrease.

Is more violence likely? Incidents such as the Jan. 6 insurrection and a recent attempt to breach an FBI field office in Cincinnati have shown a connection between inflammatory rhetoric and actual violence. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll published in January found 23% of Utahns think violence against the government can be justified — a significant minority.

However, a study by the National Academy of Sciences published in March found that there is a wide gap between theory and action. The number of people who say they support politically-motivated violence is greater than the number that is actually willing to carry it out.

The study also notes that increased polarization isn’t related to increases in support for violence. In other words, though partisanship may seem intense at the moment, it doesn’t necessarily indicate future clashes.

What else the poll found: YouGov also polled Americans about their feelings toward institutions and political figures. Here are a few brief findings:

  • A partisan divide over the FBI: 74% of Democrats view the FBI at least somewhat favorably, compared to only 33% of Republicans. 40% of Republicans hold very unfavorable views of the agency.
  • Consensus on local law enforcement: The majority of both Republicans and Democrats view local police agencies favorably. 86% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats view local police favorably.
  • The Space Force is the least popular branch of the military: With a 45% score, the Space Force came last after Marines (78%), Army (77%), Navy (77%) and Coast Guard (76%) — although 36% of respondents said they don’t yet know how they feel about the newest branch.