Poll finds large majority of San Diego County officeholders received political threats
San Diego is not immune to the political harassment, threats and violent rhetoric that have become commonplace in the United States, a new poll of local elected officials has found.
Seventy-five percent of local officeholders say they have received political threats, according to the poll’s preliminary results. The survey also found that 82% percent of women who hold office reported being threatened, compared with 66% of men.
The menacing messages to local politicians came through email, social media and other means. Many skirted the line between wishing someone harm and threatening to inflict it, said Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna, who spearheaded the poll.
“You get an awful lot of `I wish you would die,’” Luna said. “You don't get a whole lot of `I'm going to kill you.’ Unless and until they say `I am going to kill you,’ it's not criminal.”
The poll was conducted by University of San Diego’s Violence, Inequality and Power Lab at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. It was done in partnership with the Institute for Civil Civic Engagement.
UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser said the results reflected a worrying trend that is consistent with the rest of the country.
“These findings are both terribly shocking, but unsurprising, given where we are in American politics,” said Kousser, who was not involved in the poll. “We’ve seen a resurgence of violence.”
He said the threats echoed other eras in U.S. history.
“This is a country that has seen many assassinations of its top leaders,” Kousser said. “This is a country that routinely saw large political violence against Black voters in the south after the Civil War.”
While threats to politicians are not new, 66% of the poll’s respondents reported that intimidation has increased since they started public service. The phenomenon tracks with the country’s highly charged political divisions over the 2020 presidential election, guns, abortion, race and LGBTQ rights.
In some cases, the fragmentation has morphed into a resurgence of political violence. There is the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Last October, a man assaulted former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, sending him to the ICU. The next month, a failed Republican candidate was arrested for shooting at the homes of four Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico.
In January 2022, the City Heights home of former San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and his wife, former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, was damaged in an arson attack.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued warnings about violent extremism. Investigations into domestic terrorism, defined in part as criminal acts dangerous to human life inside the United States designed to affect the conduct of government, have doubled since 2020, according to the FBI.
“The real disturbing thing we're getting from our survey data is that a lot of good people just don't want to do politics anymore,” Luna said. “Why subject yourself and your family to it?”
Kousser said people who hold public office already have to sacrifice their privacy
“But it’s never been part of the bargain that you also have to put the safety of yourself, and those you love, at risk,” he said. “If we move into this era, where there are increasing acts of violence and some of the people we want to serve are shying away from that, the quality of our politicians will diminish.”
The organizers of the survey have scheduled three private meetings over the next several weeks with civil libertarians, local political parties and law enforcement to develop ideas on how to encourage more civil public engagement. The poll results will be released to the public in June.