Hyper-partisanship has made our already-contentious politics all the more hostile. Numerous media outlets have been sounding the alarm in recent days over politically charged threats of violence, and far too many are attempting to normalize events like the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.
Issues like crime and inflation strike at the core of these disputes, so it makes sense that tensions are high coming into the midterms. Recent polling indicates a strong possibility that our nation will reject the failing leftist ideas that have permeated the past decade. And the close elections in the New York governor’s race and the Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania show contempt for progressive pandering. Regardless of the margins, however, voting, not violence, is the appropriate American approach.
While this should go without saying, especially for the most educated and privileged group of younger Americans—Gen Z college and university students—data from the Future of Politics survey of over 1,500 currently enrolled students at 91 colleges and universities reveal that far too many students today believe that force may necessary to manage political or social disagreements in the future. When asked if they agree or disagree with the statement, “Our American way of life is disappearing so far that we may have to use force to save it,” a majority of students (53 percent) agreed.
Breaking down the responses further, 42 percent of strong and weak Democratic students agreed with the statement, while 67 percent of strong and weak Republicans agreed. These figures are deeply troubling and, in the words of Nebraska Senator and incoming University of Florida President Ben Sasse, simply “un-American.”
As the nation and its many college and university students head into the fall 2022 election, I want to issue a clear and strong message to all students, particularly those on the right side of the aisle: political change comes from political engagement, persuasion, and voting—not violence. Voting can and does shape outcomes for the future of the nation, and the voices of Gen Z are needed more than ever, as members of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers have dominated American politics for far too long.
The good news in spite of the proclivity to violence is that students have not given up on the electoral system. When asked if they agree that voting lets people make a difference in how government works, 73 percent of Democratic and 67 percent of Republican students affirmed the statement.
Most college and university students also agreed that the current socio-political system is chaotic and out of order. When asked to identify the biggest threat to the nation’s future, the most common response was polarization and dysfunction. This answer was significantly more common than issues like global climate change, criminal justice reform, and illegal immigration. The data show that the plurality of both Democratic students (24 percent) and Republican students (34 percent) agreed here.
Further, students still share the same general pessimism about the nation’s political divisions, but there is cause for some optimism. 57 percent of Republican students worry that the nation’s political system is too divided to address our problems, compared to a much larger 68 percent of Democrats. But, large numbers—two-thirds of Democrats (66 percent) and 62 percent of Republicans—also agree that better people will run for office in the coming years. So, there remains fairly consistent and widely shared negative attitudes toward our current political system, with a glimmer of positivity toward the future.
Colleges and universities have been significant centers of political change for generations and continue to be so as the Supreme Court tackles the question of affirmative action in admissions. Today’s conservative students have had to deal with unending progressive messaging, liberal students shouting down speakers on campus, and even violence, as has been the case at Middlebury College. However, the American way of life is not preserved or enhanced by acts of violence toward political opponents.
Republican students need to pause and seriously re-think their views on taking violent action in response to political change. It is un-American and dangerous, and it will further radicalize others. In short, it will not serve the interests of the nation. Republican students can win the competition of ideas by explaining how to make the nation prosperous and truly great; the country is already ready for a red wave against progressive ideas. Voting, campaigning, mobilizing, persuading, debating, and organizing against the Left, not political violence, is the best path forward. Turn out and cast ballots next week.
Image: Adobe Stock