Watch CBS News

Millions of Americans believe force justified to restore Trump to White House, University of Chicago study finds

Expert warns of "violent threat" to U.S. democracy
Expert warns of "violent threat" to U.S. democracy 07:46

More than 18 months after the rioting at the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, an estimated 13 million U.S. adults, or 5% of the adult population, agree that force would be justified to restore former President Donald Trump to the White House and an estimated 15 million Americans believe force would be justified to prevent Trump from being prosecuted , should he be indicted for mishandling classified documents, according to a new study from the University of Chicago. 

"We have not just a political threat to our democracy, we have a violent threat to our democracy," Dr. Robert Pape, the director of the University of Chicago's Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) told "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan on Sept. 18. "Today, there are millions of individuals who don't just think the election was stolen in 2020; they support violence to restore Donald Trump to the White House." 

The 13 million estimated in the early September survey represents a reduction since June 2021, when an estimated 23 million Americans had insurrectionist sentiment. CPOST researchers extrapolated data from over 3,000 nationally representative survey participants who responded to surveys in June and September of 2021, and April and September of 2022, to reach their conclusions in the study.

Pape and his research team found that the willingness to use violence to put Trump back in the White House was largely driven by unfounded and racist fears about a "Great Replacement" of White people by immigrants and about QAnon, a set of conspiracy theories involving sex trafficking by Democrats and liberal elites and corruption. According to the study, 61% of those who favored insurrection were fueled by fears of a Great Replacement, and 48% of those surveyed believed in QAnon.

The "Great Replacement" conspiracy is built around the belief that the Democratic Party is replacing the voting electorate with a more diverse voter base to undermine or replace political power held by White people.

"[Great Replacement] is a conspiracy theory, but it's not just on fringe social media like Parler or Gab, 4chan or 8chan" Pape said. "This is every day on Fox News, it's on Newsmax, it's on One America, it's on talk radio." 

It was a motivating factor behind the "Unite the Right" Charlottesville rally, and in recent mass shootings in Pittsburgh, Penn., Christchurch, New Zealand; El Paso, Texas, and most recently, Buffalo, N.Y. 

"If you marry those together, you have a dangerous cocktail. You have the fear of this Great Replacement happening by a Democratic Party, and then you have the fear of corruption and immorality, and that's that dangerous combination that's leading to violent support against our democracy," Pape said.

The CPOST study also found that Jan. 6 defendants were more likely to come from urban than rural areas of the country, and that insurrectionists mostly descended upon the Capitol from counties that have diversified the most quickly in the last ten years. 

Pape's research suggests that "naming and shaming" those who participated in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6 2021 has caused a decline in the number of Americans who would use force to reinstall former president Trump, likely due to this summer's hearings by the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, as well as the continued prosecutions of Jan. 6 defendants and President Biden's speeches focused on that day. 

Pape also spoke of Trump's association with QAnon, noting that the former president recently played a QAnon theme song at one of his rallies, and he reposted a video filled with references to the conspiracy. A central tenant of QAnon belief is thatTrump is one of few politicians capable of bringing down a cabal of sex trafficking politicians and political elite.

"The former president is willing to court not just supporters of his, but those who support violence for his goals, number one of which is being restored to the White House," Pape said. "He is deliberately stoking not just the fires of anger getting him political support, but the fires that are leading to that violent 13 [million]."

Voicing his concerns about the upcoming midterm elections, Pape said, "If it's just a political threat, well, then we can have elections. Once it's not just denying an election, but using violence as the response to an election denial, now we're in a new game."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.