From a CBS News poll:
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.
The telephone poll was conducted among 673 adults across the country. The margin of error is +/- 4 percent.
Hat Tip: Former Reasoner Dave Weigel, who writes at Slate, "That's still around a third of the country that blames rhetoric for the attack, despite evidence that it had nothing to do with it."
I agree with Dave that there's no evidence that political rhetoric had anything to do with the shooting, and note the poll question above was not whether rhetoric caused the attack but whether it had anything to do with it. So even the third who think that political talk had something to do with the attack are not necessarily saying it was the main cause.
These numbers reflect an America that is remaining pretty level-headed despite an incredibly ugly killing spree and a strong push by many in politics and the commentariat to say that Loughner's insanity is tied to the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, hard rock music, you name it.
An essential piece of an emerging motivation for Jared Lee Loughner's violence is emerging thanks to Mother Jones, who interviewed a friend of the alleged shooter. The friend describes Loughner's anger after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords didn't answer a question he posed at a public event in 2007. Read the interview here.
[The friend, Bryce] Tierney, who's also 22, recalls Loughner complaining about a Giffords event he attended during that period. He's unsure whether it was the same one mentioned in the charges—Loughner "might have gone to some other rallies," he says—but Tierney notes it was a significant moment for Loughner: "He told me that she opened up the floor for questions and he asked a question. The question was, 'What is government if words have no meaning?'"
Giffords' answer, whatever it was, didn't satisfy Loughner. "He said, 'Can you believe it, they wouldn't answer my question,' and I told him, 'Dude, no one's going to answer that,'" Tierney recalls. "Ever since that, he thought she was fake, he had something against her."
That question and its response further undergirds Loughner's insanity that was on display in his online postings. From almost any perspective, it is extremely unsatisfying that a killer is motivated simply by mental illness. We want there to be a stronger, deeper, somehow more complicated explanation in cases such as these, both to to dispel lingering fears that chance and contingency dominate the cosmos and because, oddly enough, it helps elevate the suffering of the victims and survivors of monumental violence if they were somehow caught up in a grander plan, no matter how matter evil.
I suspect that the more we learn about Loughner, the less we will feel secure that the world is a tidy, orderly place.