Political violence has emerged as one of Africa's most pressing security issues and recent events in Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria point to the salience of the phenomenon. Existing studies argue that the weak and incapacitated nature of African states is a significant factor contributing to high levels of political violence. Yet this insight does not help us to understand which aspect of a weak state affects political violence. Using Afrobarometer survey data, this study identifies and measures citizens’ perceptions of the dimensions of state weakness and explores how these popular attitudes shape perceptions of the use violence for political purposes. In order to test the robustness of our findings we use participation in demonstrations and protests as a second dependent variable. We find that widespread crime and insecurity, lack of state legitimacy, inadequate protection of private property and group grievances are strongly associated with both popular acceptability of political violence and higher levels of participation in demonstrations. However, we do not find any significant effect of weak presence of the state and poor provision of public goods on an individual’s proclivity to engage in political violence.