Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why the Current Elections are Fertile Territory for the Criminal Mind

The electoral process attracts some people with a criminal bent.

Key points

  • A tiny percentage of the population promotes violence in the elections process.
  • An issue or candidate becomes the target for violent rhetoric or behavior.
  • Adovcates for or perpetrators of violence are likely to have a history of such conduct.
  • Thinking errors that promote election violence are in evidence in other areas of the perpetrator's life.

The 2022 population estimate for the United States is 338,000,000 people. Just 3% of that is approximately 10,000,000. There is no reliable way to estimate what percentage of Americans have a criminal personality. But if it is as small as 3%, ten million people have the potential to inflict a lot of damage at any time.

Criminals throughout history have attached themselves to causes or social movements and used them as vehicles for excitement-and a sense of heightened self-importance. As the 2022 mid-term elections approach, advocates for violence and perpetrators of violence become more emboldened. The excitement they seek and, in many cases, have sought before in other arenas of life, now takes the form of ratcheting up extreme rhetoric calling for violence in promoting certain issues or advocating violence toward particular candidates.

As has been true throughout our history, most Americans decide which issues they think are important, then peaceably vote for the candidate whom they think will best represent them. Violence has not been the way they seek to resolve problems or redress grievances, and it plays no role in their expressing political views.

Men and women who threaten violence or who behave in a violent manner latch onto a cause and exploit it while expressing their criminality. To fortify their extreme positions, advocates of violence look to social media for reinforcement and pick up new ideas from others who share their views. The Internet does not turn them into criminals. Accessing social media, they fortify the thinking that they already have. (As one man said, “Us kinds find each other.”) Past investigations of perpetrators of violent crimes in the political realm have revealed that these individuals previously were avid consumers of the postings by others who share similar views. This was true of one of the most recent notorious offenders, the man who broke into Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home and assaulted her husband.

Even if they have no prior criminal record, perpetrators of political violence are not likely to be first-time offenders. Rather, they are individuals who have a history of criminal conduct. In the way that they have lived their lives, they have expressed lifelong patterns of “thinking errors” (see previous columns) by which they attempt to control others by deception, intimidation, or violence.

It is important to keep the above perspective in mind. Violence makes headlines, and the media reports it. However, as the elections draw near and the airwaves seem to become ever more saturated with reports of election-related violence, it is important to maintain a perspective. It is a tiny percent of the population that creates a major disruption to and abuse of the political process. They use the political issue as one of many vehicles for their criminality.

More from Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today