The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Americans reject the attack on the Capitol — but millions empathize with the mob

Trump supporters who gathered to protest the certification of Joe Biden as the next U.S. President describe how they view the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

Over the course of the past five years, the labels I use when I create graphics based on polling have grown increasingly dark. From poll questions about perceptions of foreign interference in elections, to impeachment, to death tolls from novel viruses to, now, sentiment about the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a mob supporting President Trump. Let’s all hope that this is the low point.

Most Americans appear to think that it is or, at least, that it may be. But while most Americans also think that the actions of the mob were unacceptable, a large portion of the country at least empathizes with what occurred or, in some cases, actually approves.

On Friday, polling from HuffPost and PBS NewsHour was released, offering the first assessments of how Americans viewed the events of Wednesday. In the HuffPost poll, conducted by YouGov, about three-quarters of the country expressed disapproval of what the mob had done.

In the NewsHour poll, conducted by Marist College, the question was slightly different: whether respondents supported the actions at the Capitol. Even more expressed opposition than disapproval.

Predictably, then, a majority sees the actions of the mob as mostly wrong, as opposed to either mostly right or having gone too far.

As you’ve been looking at those graphs, though, you’ve no doubt noticed how views shift as you travel from left to right on the political spectrum. Those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden in the 2020 election are far more critical of the mob’s actions than are those who voted for Trump. Most Trump voters, in fact, say either that the actions of the mob were mostly right or simply went too far — a view with which Republicans largely agree.

The HuffPost polling shows that fully a third of Trump supporters think those who stormed the Capitol represent people like them or represent Trump supporters broadly.

Put those numbers together and consider that 74 million Americans voted for Trump and the realization is stark: 18 million Trump supporters strongly approve of what the mob did and 24 million see those in the mob as representing people like them. That’s not as robust a condemnation as many Americans would probably like to see.

Republicans, unlike Democrats and independents, don’t think Trump himself bears much blame for what occurred on Wednesday. Most Americans, though, think he deserves a great deal of blame. (In HuffPost’s polling, most Democrats think congressional Republicans who opposed the certification of Biden’s win also deserve a great deal of blame for the riot.)

That Republicans largely give Trump a pass is a reflection of his strong grip on the party. Asked if they considered themselves mostly a Trump supporter or mostly a supporter of the Republican Party, more Republicans and more Trump voters picked Trump than picked the GOP.

Poll results like that cast a different light on comments made by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Friday.

“If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump,” she said, “I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”

The aforementioned poll result (and, of course, the GOP’s 2020 platform) suggests that the party is, in fact, largely the party of Trump.

A central question looming over the events at the Capitol is what happens next. Most Americans think that the actions of the mob were part of a broader movement and not simply an isolated incident. (Part of Twitter’s rationalization for banning Trump from its platform, in fact, was that there were already rumors about another such action later this month.)

Unsurprisingly, most Americans believe democracy in the United States is facing a serious threat.

Some small consolation: Most also believe that democracy is likely to survive.

But, again, what a thing to have to ask! On the spectrum of terrible things, “finding that a bit over two-thirds of Americans believe democracy will continue in this country” is slightly less terrible than “American democracy collapses,” but it’s still pretty close to the “terrible” end of things.

Again — if you’ll allow me to knock on wood as I type — let’s hope this is the low point.