ASSESSING THE RISK OF ELECTORAL VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES

ASSESSING THE RISK OF ELECTORAL VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES

Concern is growing that the coming US election season will be marked by intensified violence, heightened by President Trump’s recent call for the Proud Boys to “stand down and stand by.” Increasingly, red flags used to identify likely outbreaks of election-related violence in other countries are emerging in the United States. Are US democratic institutions strong enough to withhold the pressures they now face?

Acts of electoral violence attempt to manipulate the outcomes of an election cycle through physical violence and coercive intimidation. Common forms of electoral violence include the threat or use of force against opposition leaders and supporters, targeted violence against key voter bases, clashes between supporters of rival parties, and attacks on visible manifestations of elections.

WARNING SIGNS OF ELECTORAL VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES

Academic research on electoral violence identifies several factors that increase the risk that actors with a stake in an election will choose to employ violent tactics. Some of them are taking root in the ongoing American presidential election cycle.

THE STAKES IN THIS ELECTION ARE HIGH

When the stakes are high, political partisans are more motivated to manipulate electoral outcomes in their favor, even violently. For the two American political parties—and their supporters—there is much to be won or lost in this contentious election. Biden frames his campaign as a “fight to restore the soul of America.” Trump claims this to be “the most important election in US history.” This dynamic is exacerbated by the US “winner-take-all” electoral system, which raises the stakes of the election, and by the growing polarization between the country’s partisan camps, which reduces opportunities for cooperation and compromise. As a result, in the eyes of many, the winner of the current executive election will possess an ability to privilege one side of the growing divide.