Most Americans See No Connection Between Political Rhetoric And Arizona Shootings

A new CBS News poll seems to indicate that the American public isn’t on the same page as the chattering classes:

Nearly six in 10 Americans say the country’s heated political rhetoric is not to blame for the Tucson shooting rampage that left six dead and critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to a CBS News poll


Overall, 57 percent of respondents said the harsh political tone had nothing to do with the shooting, compared to 32 percent who felt it did. Republicans were more likely to feel the two were unrelated – 69 percent said rhetoric was not to blame; 19 percent said it played a part. Democrats were more split on the issue – 49 percent saw no connection; 42 percent said there was.

Independents more closely reflected the overall breakdown – 56 percent said rhetoric had nothing to do with the attack; 33 percent felt it did.

Once again, it would appear that the people are smarter than the politicians.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    “Overall, 57 percent of respondents said the harsh political tone had nothing to do with the shooting, compared to 32 percent who felt it did”

    So what is this, winner-takes-all truth?

  2. Andyman says:

    Why would they see a connection? A lot of them are the ones making it. Nobody would ever take personal responsibility.

    The fact that they’re probably right is a coincidence.

  3. john personna says:

    (What i’m saying is, 57% is not say 94%. It is a slim majority upon which to rest a claim for truth.)

  4. john personna says:

    You, personally, I’d really rather not be discussing this today. I have happier things to do.

    What’s pulling me back is the stream of articles here at OTB defending the violent rhetoric.

    Don’t pretend that isn’t what this thread is about. “See” you say “it isn’t to blame”

  5. James Joyner says:


    As Evelyn Hall put it, “”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    I don’t think anyone at OTB approves of some of the over-the-top rhetoric we’ve been hearing in recent years. There have been myriad posts over the years criticizing stupid comments by Sarah Palin, Tea Partiers, Birthers, and all manner of others ostensibly on our side of the political fight.

    But it’s a very different thing to say that we should tone down the rhetoric in order to more effectively solve our problems and quite another to charge that intemperate rhetoric is somehow responsible to senseless acts of political violence. It’s against that stupid charge that these posts are defending.

  6. john personna says:

    That is not the way these posts read to me, and I think I’ve been taking a very moderate line.

    I don’t “fault’ or “blame” anyone in politics for what happened. I just don’t like the current zeitgeist, and won’t let the “political climate” off the hook.

    Look again what you just wrote:

    But it’s a very different thing to say that we should tone down the rhetoric in order to more effectively solve our problems and quite another to charge that intemperate rhetoric is somehow responsible to senseless acts of political violence.

    You just did it again. You seek to separate violent rhetoric from violent action, making the argument that they don’t have anything to do with one another.

    To anyone who understands human societies, that is absurd.

  7. john personna says:

    I guess what I don’t get is why you don’t do the easy thing.

    That would be to say “while I see no direct relationship in this case, violent rhetoric is unhealthy in many ways, including its influence on the unstable or at-risk.”

    (Well, maybe I do. Maybe you are making it apparent why a “wall” between violent rhetoric and its effects must be maintained.)

  8. James Joyner says:

    I’m rejecting the idea that “some nut may take it the wrong way” should be a significant factor in how we conduct our political dialog. I’ll do a more extensive posting on the social science literature on the matter later.

  9. john personna says:

    That is insensible.

    You see, if you were talking about otherwise sensible political arguments, then you might rationally say that they shouldn’t be put aside just because “some nut may take it the wrong way.”

    The problem is that you have already stipulated that they are unhealthy in other ways.

    You defend the indefensible.

  10. john personna says:

    “I’ll do a more extensive posting on the social science literature on the matter later.”

    When you do, don’t move the bar away from the violent rhetoric that is our focus.

  11. john personna says:

    This bugs the crap out of me. I’m going to just try to leave it.

  12. AM says:

    No evidence the shooter was encouraged by the political atmosphere? You must have a pretty strict definition of evidence.

    There are 435 members in the House of Reps, most of whose names none of us know. Most people cannot even name their own representative. Sarah Palin’s chart puts targets on 20 reps and she vocally opposes them in the election. From what I can gather, 18 of those lost their re-election campaigns or retired. Incumbents almost always win re-election, but Sarah has proven she has great influence in certain areas of the country, and her star power alone raises name recognition for the candidates she endorses, helps them raise money, and generally raises the stakes in races that would have otherwise probably drawn little attention.


    1) The congresswoman who gets shot just happens to be one of the remaining two on Sarah’s chart.

    2) A distinguishing feature of this congresswoman is that she voted for Obamacare, which Palin suggested will lead to death panels.

    3) The shooter just happens to be someone who greatly fears government control of his life, just as he has been told by Sarah he should. He planned ahead to assassinate the congresswoman.

    4) The congresswoman’s most recent political opponent, who was endorsed by Palin (obviously), invited people to come shoot an M-16 rifle to symbolize taking out the congresswoman.

    5) One state away, a high profile senatorial candidate, endorsed by Palin, was suggesting that “the people” might reasonably decide to exercise “2nd amendment remedies”. No prominent members of her party voiced any discomfort over this.

    6) The victim herself expressed discomfort with the Palin targeting image. Her office was the target of vandals, and she and her staff report that her meetings with her constituents are growing increasingly tense.

    7) The frequency of death threats against politicians has escalated dramatically in recent year.

    In the face of all this, is it not reasonable to infer that there is at least an indirect connection between the political climate and the violent event? We can’t prove it, but does our common sense not tell us it’s probably so?

    Here’s a question for the people who say it is ridiculous to assert any connection: if the shooter had been Muslim, and the victim a congressperson who somehow stood out for her pro-Gitmo stance, would there be any inference to be drawn? When the Muslim guy shot up the army base, was it silly to infer anything about his motivations? Or were we supposed to say no, no, he was just a crazy guy who just happened to be Muslim and randomly chose where to shoot, without no rhyme or reason whatsoever, because that’s what mentally ill people do, you see, they act completely randomly.

  13. reid says:

    I’ve been avoiding all of this, but I agree with jp. It’s sad that for years now we’ve had an environment where politicians, media types, etc. say the craziest things without repercussion. You can lie, you can make up things about your chosen opponent (person, group, whatever), you can peddle crazy conspiracy theories; all in the name of elected office, power, and money. It’s gotten out of hand. And yes, I think this is far more prevalent on the right these days. This should be an opportunity to decry this craziness rather than jump to defend it. Even if (if!) in this particular instance an ad didn’t cause him to snap, is there any doubt that congresspeople (our allegedly serious leaders) going on about socialism, 2nd amendment solutions, etc. to agitated listeners isn’t healthy?

  14. Terrye says:


    The Congresswoman that got shot was also one of the 20 that voted against Pelosi…and yes I do have a pretty strict standard when it comes to evidence….obviously you do not. The person who got shot has a D behind her name, hence everyone with an R behind his or her name is responsible, especially Sarah Palin. That is so stupid it really makes me feel sorry for you.

  15. Terrye says:


    Is it far more prevalent on the right? I don’t think so…I just don’t think the left has any idea how obnoxious they are.

    Years of hate mongering from the left directed at Bush was enough to make me leave the Democratic party.

    The truth is crazy people do not respond to the same sort of things that rational or even just plain hateful people would. This man might very well just have wanted to be on TV…and in that case you could blame the media for creating such a circus. After all, he was a sad little loner and now he is hot stuff. Maybe that was all he cared about. It is hard to say when dealing with someone this disturbed.

    But the pathetic attempts of the left to pretend they are pure as the driven snow and have been sullied by the big bad righties are such meanies is just scandalous in the face of this tragedy. It really is.

  16. Terrye says:


    If I remember correctly a post at Kos had to be taken down…the one that was titled Gabrielle Giffords is Dead to Me..or something like that…so maybe we should blame Kos.

    The point is that nothing on your list could not be attributed to someone in your own party.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    “Years of hate mongering from the left directed at Bush was enough to make me leave the Democratic party.”

    I wonder what these past few years of hate mongering from the right directed at our current president will make you do…

  18. AD says:

    You really have to dig for the truth in all this story. Yes, if you’ve ever visited the left sites; the rehtoric is very bad. These people are very angry and nothing seems to make them happy, unless they can see distorted pictures of John McCain (and I don’t agree with all his policies) by the Atlantic photographer and recently a facebook page “I hate it when I wake up and Sarah Palin is still alive” indicating distorted pictures of her down syndrome baby.

    I mean, people, we are supposed to accept that lefties are so tolerant and caring for the disabled, or the different ethnic groups sorrowful financial plight. People, I recently heard Anita Montcrief speak on her experience working with ACORN and she just came out and said it, they put black faces in front of the camera but there are really white radical people running the show. In other words, radical Liberals USE them as a shield to get to their goal of annihilating the republic of America. They have totally destroyed the black family. (broken it up – there are some that are finally waking up) They hate America’s exceptionalism and the fact that every individual has right to liberty and freedom and prosperity. They will use any method to reach that goal; please don’t get fooled with the “tone, rhetoric” meme. They want you focused on this, instead of getting our country back to prosperity. Keep pushing our legislature to cut spending; and that means doing away with subsidies – can you imagine how much the deficit would come down even with this????

    If we were to stop free speech, lets start with the lefties; if we really want to have peace and tranquility, take all the guns, keyboards, wordprocessors, access to radio, blogs and newspapers; CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC from the left. . … …
    Can you imagine, prosperity for everyone, no race baiting, no class warfare , etc.- – – – – – -Rush Limbaugh