67 percent in new poll concerned campus protests will lead to violence

More than two-thirds of Americans fear pro-Palestinian demonstrations at college campuses will result in violent confrontations, according to a new poll.

The survey, released Wednesday by USA Today and Suffolk University, found that nearly 32 percent of Americans said they are “very concerned” the protests will end up in violence, while just more than 35 percent said they are “somewhat concerned.”

Nearly 15 percent of respondents said they are “not very concerned,” and 14 percent said they are “not at all concerned.” About 3 percent were undecided, per the poll.

Protests calling for a cease-fire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza have roiled college campuses across the nation for nearly three weeks as demonstrators call on universities and the U.S. to sever ties with Israel. More than 1,000 people — students, faculty and others — have been arrested since the first major encampment began at Columbia University about three weeks ago.

While many of the protests have been reported to be peaceful, tensions have recently escalated between protesters, law enforcement and counterprotesters. A series of colleges have called in law enforcement to disassemble encampments or building takeovers, arguing they are a disruption to college campus activities.

Last week, protesters seized control of Hamilton Hall on Columbia University’s campus, prompting New York police officers to enter the building through a window, carrying riot shields and zip ties. Several people were arrested.

The violence escalated last Wednesday at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) after counterprotesters assaulted a pro-Palestinian encampment for hours without police intervention. The counterprotesters threw fireworks and tried to take away the metal fencing and plywood from the encampment, resulting in a series of overnight skirmishes. Police later fired rubber bullets at the protesters while making arrests.

More than 200 UCLA students were arrested last week, California Highway Patrol said.

President Biden criticized the vandalism and trespassing occurring at some of the demonstrations earlier this month, while defending the right to peacefully protest.

“In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points. But this isn’t a moment for politics,” Biden said in prepared remarks from the White House last week. “It’s a moment for clarity. So let me be clear … Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is.”

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest, it’s against the law,” he continued. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduation. None of this is a peaceful protest, threatening people, intimidating people.”

Concerns have been raised over the proliferation of antisemitic rhetoric and the safety of Jewish students, though several protest groups have pushed back against these characterizations.

Republicans and Democrats differed significantly when it came to how they view the protesters’ motives and beliefs, USA Today reported. About 64 percent of Republicans said the demonstrations reflect antisemitism, while only 22 percent of Democrats said the same, per the survey.

About 57 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans said the protesters’ motives do not reflect antisemitism, the poll found.

The USA Today/Suffolk University survey was conducted April 30 to May 3, among 1,000 registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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