How likely is it that the 2024 election will devolve into violence?
A civil war, in conventional terms, is deeply unlikely. No matter how many maps of counties and states seem to depict the divide between Democrats and Republicans in vividly geographic terms, the actual division in mostly between urban and suburban residents on the one hand and exurban and rural residents on the other. In deep Red Kentucky, for example, the two largest cities (Lexington and Louisville) are firmly Democratic.
In deep Blue California, Donald Trump received over 6000000 votes, more than he received in any other state, even those he won. 2024 is not 1860; we are divided in much different ways over much different issues.
Yet it seems likely that the election will be close.
With the exception of the 2008 election (where Barack Obama defeated John McCain by a decisive but not overwhelming margin) every US Presidential election since 2000 has been very close, usually within a single state’s slate of electors. Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 was more comfortable than most, with a 5 point popular margin and 74 votes in the Electoral College, but it nonetheless depended on razor-thin margins in several states.
It seems likely that the 2024 election will play out in similar terms, with a very few swing states holding the balance between the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees. Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada will come under immense scrutiny from both parties in the days before and after the election, as any could hold the balance of power over the next four years.
The GOP’s Minority Coalition
The Republican Party remains extremely competitive at local and regional levels, and in many areas of the country has achieved a dominant position. A variety of dynamics associated with apportionment, gerrymandering, and the demographic composition of each party coalition have ensured that the GOP remains viable, and even robust.
At the Presidential level, however, the GOP is a catastrophe. It has captured the popular vote once in the past eight elections, despite winning the Presidency twice through shoe-string electoral college victories. For all intents and purposes, the GOP has given up on trying to create a coalition capable of winning the popular vote, in preference for a targeted effort at getting to 270 electoral votes.
The Electoral College is an absurd relic of a bygone age, detached completely from its original structure or purpose, but it remains the law of the land and if Republicans want to try to win elections without getting the most votes, they are welcome to play the game by the rules that currently exist.
However, the GOP and its associated media infrastructure have determined that it’s not enough to simply win the election; they also need to obscure the nature of their electoral strategy. The idea of winning an election despite receiving fewer votes is fine and well under existing electoral law, but it all sounds rather icky from small “d” democratic perspective.
The solution that Donald Trump and his lackeys have seized upon to explain his puzzling lack of popularity is to lie relentlessly about the nature of the elections themselves. If Trump or won of his lackeys wins, fine and well. If they go down to defeat, then a clarion call of “FRAUD” is immediately broadcast across social media and across the GOP-associated media infrastructure. In short, the GOP is happy to lie to its constituents, and its constituents rather enjoy being lied to.
The base of the GOP (and especially the Trump Cultist wing) fancies itself to constitute the vast majority of “real” Americans and enjoys being told so by Trump and his acolytes, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
The dangers are thus obvious. On January 6, 2021 Donald Trump inspired a fanatical, anti-democratic mob to attack the Capitol during the accreditation of Joe Biden’s electoral victory. This represented a last-ditch effort to overturn the election.
In 2024, there is every reason to believe that Donald Trump and his anti-democratic supporters will be better prepared to act on a more dangerous and effective timetable. Given that we have good reason to believe that the election will be decided across a handful of states (and that even in those states the crucial votes may be cast in a few major precincts) it would not be at all surprising to witness right-wing, pro-Trump violence at polling places on November 5, 2024.
Towards Civil War or Violence in 2024?
The future is difficult to see, and always in motion. Donald Trump could win the election; his victory in 2016 did not inspire any notable violence and was rapidly (if somewhat morosely) accepted by Democrats. Joe Biden could win by a large enough margin across several states that claims of fraud gain no purchase.
But the peril is not difficult to see. The GOP is a minority coalition that fanatically believes that it is a majority coalition.
It has been fed (and has enthusiastically consumed) a series of lies about fraud in the 2020 election. Its members will decide whether to choose violence with all the confidence and purpose of the Righteous. Moreover, the personal stakes for Donald Trump are immense.
If he wins, he will become President of the United States for a second time.
If he loses, he stands a very good chance of dying in prison. Under these circumstances, it is only sensible to worry that he will try to tilt the electoral process in his favor violently.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money. Farley is a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.
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