Most in US fear elec­tion vi­o­lence

Ex­clu­sive sur­vey: Only 1 in 4 ex­pect peace­ful tran­si­tion

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Su­san Page and Sarah Elbesh­bishi

Amer­i­cans are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about what will hap­pen at the finish line of this year’s tu­mul­tuous elec­tion, a new USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Univer­sity Poll finds, in­clud­ing whether the vot­ing will be peace­ful and the out­come broadly ac­cepted.

Three of 4 vot­ers ex­press con­cern about the pos­si­bil­ity of vi­o­lence on Elec­tion Day. Only 1 in 4 say they are “very confident” that the na­tion will have a peace­ful trans­fer of power if Demo­cratic chal­lenger Joe Bi­den de­feats Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“There’s a very an­gry un­der­tone out there right now,” said Mon­ica Pon­ton, 72, of St. Peters­burg, Florida. The reg­is­tered nurse, a Demo­crat who was called in the sur­vey, has al­ready cast her bal­lot for Bi­den. “I’m in my 70s, and I feel like this is one of the scari­est times I’ve ever seen for Amer­ica since pos­si­bly ( Pres­i­dent) Kennedy and the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis” in 1962.

Bi­den holds a steady 8- point lead over Trump in the na­tion­wide poll, 52%- 44%, taken after the final pres­i­den­tial de­bate last Thurs­day. That reflects lit­tle change since the sur­vey taken at La­bor Day, the launch of the fall cam­paign sea­son, when the for­mer vice pres­i­dent led by 7 points, 50%- 43%.

The sta­bil­ity in the horse race isn’t reflected in confidence about the vote it­self, though, in­clud­ing fears that aren’t tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with ma­ture democ­ra­cies. The find­ings un­der­score the chal­lenges the even­tual win­ner will face if he wants to unite and re­as­sure an anx­ious na­tion.

“I think it’s a bit rocky right now,” Rachel Hage, a stay- at- home mother of three from Boise, Idaho, replied when asked in a fol­low- up in­ter­view about how things were go­ing in the coun­try. A Repub­li­can, she plans to go to the polls on Elec­tion Day to vote for Trump.

The broad reach of COVID- 19

Just about ev­ery­one has been touched by COVID- 19. A ma­jor­ity of those sur­veyed, 53%, say the pan­demic has had a “ma­jor im­pact” on their lives. An ad­di­tional 30% say it has had a mi­nor im­pact.

That im­pact in­cludes the dis­ease it­self, which has in­fected nearly 9 mil­lion Amer­i­cans and killed more than 227,000, and the eco­nomic up­heaval in its wake.

Asked an open- ended ques­tion to name the sin­gle is­sue that was most im­por­tant in de­cid­ing their vote, 19% cited the econ­omy and jobs. Ten per­cent said the pan­demic, and an ad­di­tional 9% said health care, a re­lated con­cern. The only other is­sue that reached dou­ble dig­its was “char­ac­ter/ hon­esty/ trust,” men­tioned by 10%.

There was a par­ti­san di­vide on what is­sue mat­tered most. Repub­li­cans were much more likely to cite the econ­omy, not the coron­avirus, as their driv­ing con­cern, 32% com­pared with 4%. But Democrats were much more likely to cite the pan­demic, not the econ­omy, 15% com­pared with 5%.

To­gether, those two con­cerns over­whelmed oth­ers, even hot- but­ton is­sues. Just 3% named abor­tion rights or the en­vi­ron­ment/ cli­mate change; 2% taxes or im­mi­gra­tion; 1% gun con­trol or ed­u­ca­tion.

“The lock­downs are hard on peo­ple,” said Amy Cal­la­han, 52, a home­maker from Danville, Illi­nois. A Repub­li­can, she plans to cast an early bal­lot for Trump.

“I have an el­derly father who’s 82 that used to go to coffee ev­ery morn­ing with his friend, and not be­ing able to do that – it’s re­ally taken a toll on him,” she said. Public health officials say steps such as so­cial dis­tanc­ing are cru­cial to con­tain­ing the virus, es­pe­cially for se­niors who are most vul­ner­a­ble to the dis­ease.

Her hus­band’s busi­ness, which pro­vides flood- zone cer­tification needed for home sales, has been boom­ing. But they miss the full fel­low­ship of their church. “If you go to church you wear your mask,” she said, “and ev­ery­body kind of gets out of there quickly.”

The sur­vey of 1,000 likely vot­ers, taken by land­line and cell­phone Fri­day through Tues­day, has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3.1 per­cent­age points.

When it comes to han­dling the coron­avirus, just 38% ap­prove of the job done by the pres­i­dent, who has been crit­i­cized for down­play­ing the dis­ease and send­ing mixed mes­sages about how to con­trol it, That’s lower than his 48% ap­proval rat­ing in han­dling the econ­omy and his 44% job- ap­proval rat­ing over­all.

Trump may have paid a price for con­tin­u­ing to hold mas­sive cam­paign ral­lies where most of his sup­port­ers don’t wear face masks and none of them are so­cially dis­tant from oth­ers, as epi­demi­ol­o­gists ad­vise. Nearly 6 in 10, 59%, dis­ap­prove of Trump’s de­ci­sion to go ahead with his sig­na­ture ral­lies de­spite the pan­demic. Trump him­self caught the coron­avirus, as have more than a dozen mem­bers of his in­ner cir­cle.

In con­trast, more than 6 in 10, 64%, ap­prove of Bi­den’s de­ci­sion not to hold large ral­lies be­cause of COVID- 19. Trump has re­peat­edly mocked Bi­den for wear­ing face masks and cam­paign­ing “from his base­ment” in Wilm­ing­ton,

Delaware. Three peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with the Bi­den cam­paign have tested pos­i­tive for the virus.

‘ I’m a lit­tle bit fright­ened’

Most Amer­i­cans are braced for trou­ble when the cam­paign finally ends.

Three of 4 say they are con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of vi­o­lence on Elec­tion Day and af­ter­ward; more than a third are “very con­cerned.” Only about 1 in 5, 22%, ex­press lit­tle or no con­cern.

That reflects a sig­nificant shift over the past four years. In Oc­to­ber 2016, the USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Poll found that al­most half of Amer­i­cans, 47%, had lit­tle or no con­cern about vi­o­lence around the elec­tion.

“Hon­estly, I’m a lit­tle bit fright­ened,” said Va­lerie Solda­tow, 40, of Pitts­boro, North Carolina. An in­de­pen­dent, she didn’t vote in 2016 and has now cast a bal­lot for Bi­den, al­beit with­out much en­thu­si­asm, in hopes of bring­ing about change. “There’s a lot of divi­sion. I feel like there is much more ha­tred and a lot more ag­gres­sive­ness be­ing shown by peo­ple, and that to me is very fright­en­ing.”

Since the last elec­tion, confidence that there will be a peace­ful trans­fer of power has eroded, per­haps be­cause Trump has re­fused to com­mit to that. At this point in 2016, 40% of Amer­i­cans were “very confident” about a peace­ful trans­fer of power. Now just 23% are. Nearly 4 in 10 have lit­tle confidence that will hap­pen.

On that is­sue, Repub­li­cans are more confident than Democrats.

“In this elec­tion, there is a much deeper fear of vi­o­lence not only on Elec­tion Day, but for many days there­after,” said David Pa­le­ol­o­gos, di­rec­tor of the Suffolk Po­lit­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter.

There is bi­par­ti­san agree­ment, iron­i­cally, on whether the coun­try’s di­vi­sions are deeper than they have been in the past: 69% say they are, a find­ing that gen­er­ally holds across party lines. Of 1,000 likely vot­ers polled, only 32 peo­ple, or about 3%, say the di­vi­sions are less deep than in the past.

By 2- 1, 58%- 29%, those sur­veyed say the coun­try has got­ten off on the wrong track.

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