• Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden supporters seem concerned our country may not be able to heal following this election.  

Early this month, presidential candidate Joe Biden was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the defining Civil War battle in 1863 that ended up saving the Union, to make a point about the need to heal the country’s political chasms.

“Today again, we are a house divided,” he said.

“As I look across America today, I’m concerned the country is in a dangerous place,” the former vice president said. “Our trust in each other is ebbing. Hope seems elusive. Too many American see our public life not as an arena for mediation of our differences, but rather they see it as an occasion for total, unrelenting partisan warfare. Instead of treating each other’s party as the opposition, we treat them as the enemy. This must end.”

and The Survey Says

Those sentiments might help explain the conclusion of a new survey that finds a majority of U.S. adults believe the country is “on the verge” of a second civil war. Of those, four of 10 said they “strongly agree” with that sentiment expressed most sharply by those identifying themselves as very conservative or very liberal.

The online poll Sept. 23 has a margin of error of 4.42 percentage points in either direction.

“This is the single most frightening poll result I’ve ever been associated with,” said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, one of the three firms, along with the Sports and Leisure Research Group and ROKK Solutions, that sponsored the survey.

Thau said that the partisan tensions have been “bubbling below the surface or just above” for some time and that the divisions are being ruptured further by a pandemic over which both sides disagree on the severity and response and an election in which both sides view each other as hardened combatants.

“So, what’s the consequence of that? How bad does this get?” said Thau, who has been holding focus groups with battleground state voters as part of the Swing Voter Project. “You’ve got people on the far left with guns, people on the far right with guns. And an unwillingness of political elites to condemn this. … People are girding themselves for something awful to happen.”

The poll doesn’t define what a civil war would look like. Would it be armed confrontation in some areas or just widespread protests? Would it involve economic boycotts or simply family members and friends who no longer speak to one another?

‘Dehumanizing’ the other side

Alex Theodoridis, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has studied the country’s growing partisan divide. The reasonable chance that the election comes down to a few states and that legal challenges could mean a protracted court battle would give voters on both sides more ammunition to doubt the integrity of the election and act out, he said.

“A close, contested election in our hyper-polarized political climate could very well produce isolated incidents of partisan violence,” he said. “My research, and work by others, shows that most partisans are willing to metaphorically dehumanize those from the other party and that this dehumanization predicts greater tolerance for partisan violence.”

And each side is apt to blame the other for inciting disorder.

“If Trump wins, I fear chaotic, destructive hate will continue,” said Chrissy Koach, 49, a Trump supporter from Arlington, VA.

“Trump Derangement Syndrome really exists and some people will not stop,” she wrote in an email to USA TODAY. “Even if President Trump wins by a landslide/legitimately, I believe irrational people will persist and continue to sow hate, fear, etc.”

Noor Ain, 23, is worried about what will happen in the aftermath of the election. A Biden supporter who initially backed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic presidential primary, Ain said Trump’s victory in 2016 “validated” hate in the U.S. and that his followers could act up even if he wins reelection.student who emigrated from Pakistan as a child, is worried about what will happen in the aftermath of the election. A Biden supporter who initially backed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic presidential primary, Ain said Trump’s victory in 2016 “validated” hate in the U.S. and that his followers could act up even if he wins reelection.

“The country’s already pretty divided, and it’s only become more and more divided in the past four years,” she said. “Considering the state of things this year, there’s a lot of different emotions and there are a lot of people who feel very strongly about different sides. Whatever the outcome is, I feel like there will be a rise in violence.”

Thau said he has never seen anything like it.

“I was a history major in college and I try to imagine how someone will explain this to other people 50 years from now,” he said. “It just seems like the country’s lost its mind.”

– Contributing: USA Today

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