From Columbine to Sandy Hook, when tragedies like school shootings occur, they tend to dominate media coverage. Shootings like these, however, are among the more rare and unusual forms of school violence. These horrific events are simply the worst expression of violent behavior and crime that occurs on campuses across the country. But why is there so much violence in our sanctuaries of learning? In a recent Barna survey, in partnership with MJM Entertainment Group, American adults were asked their opinion on a question that keeps parents and teachers up at night: What factors can lead to violence in America’s schools?
Most American adults believe family dysfunction has the most formative impact on a young person’s propensity to violence. Difficult family situations such as divorce, single parenting or absent parents (51%) are the most often cited factors believed to contribute to school violence. People believe another key factor is undiagnosed or untreated mental illness (43%), followed closely by easy access to guns (40%), a reason cited by two-fifths of American adults. Each of the top three reasons combined indicate a noteworthy mix of concerns related to both means and motive.
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Following the three most common responses are those related specifically to media. More than one-quarter (27%) believe violence in video games motivates violence in real life. To a lesser extent, they also believe violence on television plays a critical role (22%). Violence in film and movies (15%) or in music (14%) are lower on the list. Moving away from media, one-fifth of American adults (20%) believe a lack of religion in school (e.g. prayer, religious instruction / education) contributes to the reality of violence. And finally, only a handful (7%) believe a lack of armed guards in schools is an issue.
The three main catalysts for violence cited among American adults—difficult family situations, untreated mental illness and easy access to guns—were identified consistently across different faith segments, with the exception of evangelicals. While the most common factor chosen among evangelicals pertains to problems at home (63%), they also believe “lack of religion in school” (58%) is a major contributing factor leading to violence, and are much more likely to say this than any other group surveyed, including practicing Christians (34%). According to them, the absence or decline of a religious influence is twice as likely to lead to violence than factors like mental illness (34%) and gun accessibility (26%).
Along generational lines, there are few variations from the top answers. However, older respondents are more likely to view violence in video games (43% Elders compared to 17% Millennials) or TV (33% Elders compared to 18% Millennials) as contributing factors to school violence. The older generations are also more likely to believe that a lack of religion in school contributes to violence than their younger counterparts (28% Elders compared to 17% Millennials).
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Race and ethnicity also play a key role in how individuals rank the primary reasons for school violence. For example, black adults say that access to guns (54%) or neglected mental health (48%) contribute to school violence more than trouble at home (40%). Hispanics and Asians are less convinced that untreated mental illness plays a role in school violence (34% and 29%, respectively). Asians, however, are most likely to believe a lack of armed school guards contributes to violence (18%, compared to the average of 7%).
When examining respondents by party affiliation, there are few surprises in the data: Republicans are more likely to blame lack of religion in school (31% vs. 13% Democrats) and Democrats are much more likely to blame easy access to guns (55% vs. 28% Republicans). Both Democrats and Republicans weigh family conflicts heavily (46% and 58%, respectively) and, to a lesser extent, untreated mental illness (48% and 35%). Independents are more likely to agree with Republicans on guns (30%), but they are on a similar page with Democrats when it comes to mental illness (47%).
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About the Research
Interviews with U.S. adults included 1281 web-based surveys conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 in each of the 50 United States. The survey was conducted November 4-16 of 2016. The sampling error for this study is plus or minus 3 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2017
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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