Analysis

Election-related social unrest and security risk in the US

  • United States of America
  • Enterprise Security Strategy
  • CORE

Election-related social unrest and security risk in the US


 

Companies operating in the United States should anticipate the risk of social unrest and political violence to remain elevated before, during, and after the upcoming presidential election.

Pre-election

Unrest during the pre-election period is likely to consist mainly of limited, localized protests involving rival political activists coinciding with or targeting specific political events, such as rallies, speeches, fundraisers, and debates. These actions are likely to be largely non-violent, comprising disruptive protests, blockades at event venues, and – against the backdrop of COVID-19 concerns – vehicle convoys. However, there is a latent risk of localized confrontation and escalation between political activists.

Election-related unrest is likely to overlap substantially with ambient local social unrest both substantively and geographically, including regular or reactive racial justice and COVID-19 anti-restriction protests. Recent counterdemonstrations to racial justice protests have often been explicitly pro-government, occasionally resulting in violent clashes.

Election day

Unrest on election day itself, November 3rd, is likely to remain limited and involve rival political activists, focusing on in-person voting sites (including related to poll monitoring and get-out-the-vote efforts), symbolic government assets, and public spaces in city centers. Isolated confrontations between political activists over access to in-person voting sites are likely.

Mass demonstrations are unlikely during voting hours but are more likely in the evening as projected results are announced for some places, particularly in Washington DC and major cities nationwide. Any mass demonstrations would be likely to remain largely peaceful but pose incidental threats to business assets in the local area.

Concerns about voter fraud or voter suppression are likely to motivate individual instances of militant activism and vigilantism aimed to “protect the vote”, potentially with the exhortation or tacit support of prominent political officials. Armed activists are likely to be present in some areas, posing a threat of accidental or deliberate escalation.

Post-election

Social unrest in the post-election period is likely to occur in phases and will depend heavily on the process and outcomes of the election. Most unrest is likely to be motivated by federal elections in line with a perception of “existential” national political dynamics; unrest relating to local and state races is less likely. Post-election unrest is also likely to be shaped by misinformation, rumors, and conspiracy theories circulating in the wake of a contested election, some of which may stem from foreign influence campaigns.

Given a surge in postal voting and the potential for recounts and other legal challenges, we anticipate that credible election results are likely to be delayed for days to weeks after election day. During this period, partisan protests designed to put pressure on state political and election officials are likely, particularly in states where the election result is close or contested.

Political activists – including militant activists – may mobilize to “defend” an apparent preliminary election result against purported “rigging”, triggering counterdemonstrations that pose a localized threat of violent clashes. A contested election process, meanwhile, could extend this timeframe, including – in extremis – until the inauguration itself.

Once key outcomes of the election are reached, the nature and extent of unrest is likely to depend on the outcomes themselves, how they were reached, and whether they are accepted as legitimate.

A narrow presidential victory following a disputed election would be likely to be viewed as illegitimate – and potentially invalid – by a significant fraction of the electorate. Unrest risks diverge between the candidates: a contested election that results in a Biden victory would be less likely to trigger mass demonstrations but more likely to mobilize militant anti-government activists who both view the election as “stolen” and perceive specific political or cultural threats from a Democratic administration. The threat of targeted political violence from right-wing extremists would persist.

Conversely, a contested election that delivered a Trump victory – particularly if he clearly loses the popular vote – would be likely to trigger mass demonstrations in major US cities (and many foreign countries besides), similar to those in November 2016. While demonstrations would be largely peaceful, they would be likely to deteriorate into violent unrest in some areas.

Preparing for election-related unrest

Given the likelihood of prolonged social unrest, global companies and investors operating in the US are taking measures to protect their people and assets. From developing threat monitoring programs for tracking unrest, to physically securing retail and office locations in the event of riots, to incorporating social risk factors into their broader plans for corporate crisis management, organizations are adapting to an unprecedented and rapidly evolving American operating environment.

Find out how Control Risks can help your organization manage threats of social unrest and violence in the US

DOTCOM - Managing social unrest in the US
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