Perhaps the most bizarre – and definitely among the most frightening – news story of the past week was the report of a plot by militiamen to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and try her for treason. Most registered voters in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll were aware of coverage of the events and, regardless of political conviction, it was a plot that most felt presented a real threat to Whitmer's safety.
More than three in four Democrats (78%) as well as more than half of Republicans (51%) believe the plot was a serious threat against the Democratic Governor. Just one in nine (11%) overall believe there was no threat. But a quarter of registered voters (25%) aren’t sure what to think.
Those most familiar with the story consider the American militia group’s actions a serious danger by an overwhelming ten to one margin (83% vs 8%). Registered voters overwhelmingly agree, by 79% to 9%, that Americans plotting to kidnap an incumbent Governor is an act of terrorism.
Domestic violent extremists were highlighted by FBI Director Christopher Wray in his September appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee as a “steady and evolving threat of violence and economic harm to the United States.” Wray remarked that one of the underlying drivers for domestic violent extremism is "perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach.”
Several of the arrested Americans had participated in demonstrations at the Michigan State Capitol against extended stay-at-home orders promulgated by Governor Whitmer as a defense against the COVID-19 outbreak. In this poll, those who believe stay at home orders violate civil liberties are less likely than the rest of the public to consider the kidnapping plot a real threat to Whitmer, at 48%.
Nevertheless, 71% in this group still consider the plot an example of terrorism.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 registered voters interviewed online between October 11 - 13, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 4% for the overall sample.