But could things actually turn violent this time?
For answers on that, I spoke to Rachel Brown, the founder and director of Over Zero, a non-profit dedicated to preventing identity-based violence and other forms of group-based harm, who studies how communication can increase or decrease the chances of violence. She said that with the type of rhetoric we see around this election, we need to be proactive about preventing violence—both pre-election and post-election. When it comes to post-election violence, she said, “there will be a results waiting period and it will be important to see how politicians handle themselves and how this period is discussed in the media.”
“Do they question the results in broad, big terms or specific complaints that can be remedied?” Brown said. “There will be real grievances if there are procedural challenges, and it’s important that those issues are addressed through proper legal channels quickly. For this to work, there has to be lots of communication about what has happened and how it gets resolved.”
“Media needs to be educated on state-by-state procedures and have the knowledge about how to manage expectations and help people be patient through such a new process,” Brown cautioned. “Be aware of any preemptive declarations the election is illegitimate, preemptive declarations of victory, and any excessive use of state force—for example, if peaceful protesters are met with force.” And the propensity for violence can rise, she added, when “voters feel like the stakes are zero sum.”