With Partisan Tensions Rising, Are Fears Of ‘The Other Side’ Justified? We Asked The Experts

Oct 27, 2020

Tensions between parties are high as Election Day approaches. President Donald Trump has wavered on his commitment to a peaceful transition, leaving some to wonder: is election-related violence a threat this year?

In North Carolina, there has been friction at some polling places but people are still motivated to turn out to vote, according to reporting by Courtney Napier, a Raleigh-based freelance journalist and As the South Votes contributor at Scalawag magazine. And while fears of election-related violence are rooted in real concerns about rising militia activity and inflammatory political comments, some concern may be overblown, says Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow in the Democracy, Conflict and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Each political party has stoked a hatred of the “other side” in their rhetoric, leaving people to feel fear for what may come should their political party lose the election, she explains.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Kleinfeld about the definition of violence and the roots of post-election fears. Also joining the conversation are journalists Napier and Lilly Knoepp of Blue Ridge Public Radio to talk about how people feel about their safety in North Carolina leading up to the elections. And Joanne Freeman, professor of history and American studies at Yale University, talks about what historical events she is recalling to contextualize the present atmosphere.

Interview Highlights

Courtney Napier on voter awareness of post-election tension:

There is a large chance here in Wake County that we're going to see some large demonstrations like we did over the summer during the protests for Black lives. ... I believe that we're very aware of that, and the voters are very aware of that — which is part of the reason why I think there's been such an incredible turnout for early voting.

Lilly Knoepp on her reporting about militia activity in North Carolina:

One of the really interesting reports that's come out is from the ACLED, which is the Armed Conflict, Location and Event Data [Project]. And they actually did a study on where they think there could be some potential for post election violence. And they put North Carolina in the moderate risk category in comparison to some other states, like Georgia and Michigan. And [they] really pointed towards capital cities and kind of peripheral towns, really not in rural western North Carolina where I cover.

Rachel Kleinfeld on the role of law enforcement in democracy:

You need to actually enforce your laws. At the same time, you need to build a state where more people feel included — where people don't feel that what the state's job is is solely to crack down, but that the state's job is to bring everyone in and give everybody a stake in the system. America right now is failing on both counts.

Joanne Freeman on why some voters are asking about the possibility of civil war:

In the American lexicon, civil war is pretty much what people think of when they think of the nation dividing itself in some way. A civil war right now is not going to look like what people say when they say that. Obviously, we can't draw a line across the nation and say: Here the North is one side, and the South is another side. But I think that's a shorthand for basically saying that Americans might turn against each other.