Monday numbers: A closer look at the prevalence of extremist views in different groups of Americans

By: - June 20, 2022 5:30 am
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center

Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center released the results of a poll showing the extent to which extremist beliefs and narratives have become prevalent in the general public.

The poll of more than 1,500 Americans, conducted in late April, found a rising acceptance of the use of violence against political opponents and of the notion that marginalized groups such as LGBTQ people are inherently dangerous.

It also found an increasing embrace of white supremacist “great replacement theory” beliefs among conservatives.

Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans surveyed agreed to some extent that demographic changes in the United States are deliberately driven by liberal and progressive politicians attempting to gain political power by “replacing more conservative white voters.”

But the embrace of extremism is not entirely on one side of the aisle. The polling found the group most likely to approve of “assassinating a politician who is threatening the country or our democracy” was Democratic men under 50 — a full 10% higher than the group with the next highest level of agreement, Republican men under 50.

“The SPLC survey was not designed to simply measure prejudice or bigotry,” the preamble to the report reads. “Instead, we set out to examine to what degree people in certain groups feel threatened or persecuted by members of a defined ‘outgroup.’”

The report continued:

The belief that one group of people is inherently harmful to your own is foundational to extremism, as is the idea that the well-being and survival of the ‘in group’ depends on taking hostile action against those who supposedly threaten it.

The man allegedly responsible for the shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, for example, argued that Jews, immigrants and Latinos, in addition to the Black people he targeted, posed an existential threat to the white race, leading him to conclude that ‘fighting is the only way.’ Hostile actions against an outgroup can take the forms of violence like terrorist attacks, but it can also include conduct like abusive language or discriminatory and dehumanizing legislation.”

Real world impacts

North Carolina, like many other states, is seeing a wave of legislation and political action casting LGBTQ people and culture as inherently harmful.

Last Thursday, the Gaston County manager Kim Eagle asked the county’s Museum of Art and History to remove a photo of a marriage proposal between two men at the 2019 Charlotte Pride parade. In a statement, Eagle said she had instructed the museum staff to “find an alternative photograph to display that would be more considerate of differing viewpoints in the community.”

Charlotte Pride issued its own statement, saying “differing viewpoints in the community” on the issue of same-sex marriage — legal across the U.S. since 2015 — is exactly what was being suppressed by removal of a photo that would have met no opposition had the couple been heterosexual.

The move came after the museum director removed another photo — of a Black protester being arrested at a protest against a Confederate monument.

“‘Here we go again,” said Clark Simon, president of the Charlotte Pride Board of Directors. “Gaston County’s decision to censor this photograph and others seeks to silence and erase the existence of LGBTQ and minority people in Gaston County and the wider region. LGBTQ and minority people are an essential and integral part of our community, and Gaston County’s decision this week is reminiscent of recent national efforts to paint the simple existence of LGBTQ people as dangerous to society. I find it especially astonishing that Gaston County would also censor an additional photograph documenting protests against a Confederate monument on Gaston County government property.”

Last week, the Forsyth County Republican Men’s Club also protested a Drag Queen Storytime event at Bookmarks, an independent bookstore in Winston-Salem. Messages promoting the protest called it “perversion” and the chairman of the county GOP called it the work of “militant gay leftists trying to separate children from their parents.”

This year Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have filed a number of bills targeting LGBTQ people — and especially LGBTQ youth, seeking to remove mentions of LGBTQ people from public spaces altogether. The Forsyth County event brings conservative opposition from the realm of public schools and libraries to private businesses and events to which families choose to bring their children, casting any exposure to LGBTQ children — even those who come from LGBTQ families — as de facto dangerous.

This week, a by-the-numbers look at some of SPLC’s findings on the mainstreaming of political extremism. Many of the results are broken down not just by partisanship but also by gender and age, which gives much deeper insight into who holds these beliefs.

On gender issues:

52 – percentage of survey respondents who said discrimination against transgender people is a problem that needs to be addressed

57 – percentage of Republican men under 50 who agreed that “transgender people are a threat to children.” While this was the group with the strongest agreement, 45% of Republican women over 50 agreed as did 42% of Democratic men under 50.

49 – percentage of respondents who said they agree “gender ideology has corrupted American culture”

72 – percentage of Republicans who agreed

34 – percentage of Democrats

45 – percentage of independents

The poll does not appear to have given a specific definition of “gender ideology.” The SPLC report defines it as a term often used in conservative political circles that “generally refers to a belief that LGBTQ people are a threat to children and families and that men and women should adhere to ‘traditional’ notions of masculinity and femininity.” The report said former President Donald Trump used the term at a recent political rally, quoting him as saying,“With their extremist sex and gender ideology, the Democrat Party is waging war on reality, war on science, war on children, war on women.”

On “revolution”:

45 – percentage of Republican men under 50 who said they approve of “participating in a political revolution, even if it is violent in its ends”

42 – percentage for the group with the next highest approval rate — Democratic men under 50

Approving of assassination:

44 – percentage of Democratic men under 50 who said they approve of “assassinating a politician who is harming the country or our Democracy”

34 – percentage for the group with the next highest percentage — Republican men under 50

Agreeing with the statement “feminism has done more harm than good”

62 – percentage of Republican men under 50

52 – percentage of Republican women under 50

51 – percentage of Republican women over 50

42 – percentage of Republican men over 50

42 – percentage of Democratic men under 50

23 – percentage of Democratic women under 50

10 – percentage of Democratic women over 50

4 – percentage of Democratic men over 50

On the threat posed by others:

67 – percentage of Democrats who said Republicans are a threat to the country

63 – percentage of Republicans who said Democrats are a threat to the country

On the possibility of ‘civil war’:

44 – percentage of overall respondents who agreed “The U.S. seems headed toward a civil war in the near future”

53 – percentage  of Republicans said they agreed

39 – percentage of Democrats

Click here to explore the SPLC poll results.

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.