Black Americans are more than one-and-one-half times more likely than white Americans to expect “displays of violence,” including violent threats, at polling places in their area this November, a new Grid-Harris poll finds. And Black Americans are nearly twice as likely as white Americans to say they expect violence to be triggered by the election results.
The poll found 35 percent of Black Americans believe violence is likely or very likely at their polling places this November, compared to 22 percent of white respondents. Forty percent of African American adults polled said the results of the midterm elections on Nov. 8 are likely to spark displays of violence in their area, compared to 23 percent of white U.S. adults.
Experts say the findings reflect an awareness among Black voters of the brutal legacy of Jim Crow, and often-violent suppression efforts by white Americans that have plagued American democracy since the United States extended voting rights to Black Americans in 1870.
“Whenever Black progress happens, there is a white backlash that kind of occurs with that,” said Gabi Vitela, research director for HIT Strategies, which studies Black voter behavior. “Political violence is very old hat to the Black community. Whereas other groups may have been kind of shocked at that moment, after Jan. 6, I don’t think it came as a surprise for Black voters honestly.”
The United States has seen a definitive spike in political violence and threats of violence in recent years. Some have noted political aggressors are frequently white; a January 2022 study, for example, found 93 percent of Jan. 6 defendants are white.
Fewer have noted that the victims of political violence and threats are often people of color, from election officials like Georgia election workers Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who testified on July 21 before the Jan. 6 committee, to some of the police officers assaulted by rioters on Jan. 6. Overall, the Grid-Harris poll found 28 percent of U.S. adults said it is “likely” the midterm election results will spark displays of violence in their area, and 57 percent viewed the possibility as “unlikely.” A further 19 percent said they were “not at all sure.”
Among the 28 percent of adults who answered that displays of electoral violence are “likely,” 16 percent said that it was “somewhat likely” and 12 percent specified that it is “very likely.”
Nearly one-quarter of African American adults said displays of violence tied to the election results are “very likely,” more than double the 10 percent of white Americans who answered that it is “very likely.”
“Black and Latino communities are much more aware of potential intimidation, potential opportunities to suppress their vote and potential violence,” said Wendy Via, CEO of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, which has also conducted research on voter concerns.
Experts say the possibility of violence should not deter voters from casting ballots in November.
Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who studies the intersection of democracy and security, said voters “should go to the polls and be unconcerned.”
In fact, the threat of violence may actually compel people to vote — particularly Black Americans.
“The threats, and these instances and events, are motivating factors” for Black voters, HIT Strategies’ Vitela told Grid. “People see this happening and don’t want to let this keep going on. And so they are absolutely heading to the ballot box with these kinds of factors in mind.”
Findings of the Grid-Harris poll appear to back up Vitela: While Black Americans are significantly more likely to expect violence around the vote, they are no less likely to say they planned to vote. Eighty-four percent of Black respondents said they planned to vote in November, compared to 83 percent of white respondents.
The online survey of 1,045 adults was conducted from Oct. 7 to 10, and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.