Which is to say that for that segment of the population that relies on networks such as Fox News as a primary source of news, it’s likely that they’ve been less exposed to the grim details of the day. It’s likely that they have not been updated on new arrests and new video footage depicting the chaos. And because views of the insurrection are necessarily intertwined with partisanship, it’s possible that more-generous views of the rioters’ actions are more a reflection of partisan alignment than of actual generosity toward a mob that attacked law enforcement officers and posed an immediate risk to lawmakers even as they tried to undercut the 2020 presidential election.
This context is useful to consider because the alternative is so much more worrisome.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say that we know as much about the events of that day as we need to, according to new polling conducted by YouGov for CBS News. Even a majority of Republicans and self-identified Trump voters say that there’s more to learn about what occurred, however, offering a small dose of support for the investigation that’s soon to get underway in the House.
You can see the partisanship at play there, of course. Opposition to an inquiry is by now deeply embedded in Republican politics on the Hill, with one of the party’s nominees to sit on the panel already attacking the investigation itself as partisan. That most of his party still thinks there’s more to learn is useful to know.
If responses to that question are largely driven by partisan alignment, we can only hope that responses to this question are, too.
The CBS-YouGov poll asked Americans if they approved of the actions of those who forced their way into the Capitol. Most said that they strongly disapproved of the attack. Among Republicans, though, only about 4 in 10 said they strongly disapproved — with a quarter saying they approved of the rioters’ actions, if only somewhat.
The pollsters asked the same thing in a January poll. Then, more than half of Republicans strongly disapproved of the rioters’ actions. In other words, there has been a measurable softening in opposition to that violence on the right.
We see something similar in another question asked by CBS and YouGov. Respondents were offered a number of descriptors that might apply to the violence and were asked whether they thought those descriptions were apt. More than half of Trump voters said that it was fair to describe the attack as an example of “patriotism” or of “defending freedom.” Most Americans, by contrast, considered it an effort to overturn the election or overthrow the government.
It’s important to consider those expressions of approval in the context of another question asked in the poll: How secure is democracy in the United States? About half of Democrats said it was secure, as did a third of Americans overall. But more than three-quarters of Republicans said that democracy was being threatened.
Why? Clearly in part because so many sincerely believe the false claim that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 presidential election. This assertion, promoted by President Donald Trump even before the election itself, is now approaching something akin to a proven fact on the right, despite it being neither proved nor factual in any sense whatsoever. It was the primary motivation of those who sought to overrun the Capitol on Jan. 6, this idea that the election was stolen and that they were pushing back on that usurpation of power. That’s why many view the riot as patriotic or a defense of freedom: If you sincerely believe that the election was stolen, however incorrectly, why would you not approve of an effort to revert the results? And if you sincerely believe the election was stolen, why would you not see democracy as being imperiled?
It’s not hard to see how rickety everything becomes as a result. If millions of Americans can be convinced of the reality of something that is demonstrably untrue — that is, that rampant illegal voting occurred last year — they can be convinced that the entire political system is being or has been upended. And if that has happened, why shouldn’t acts of political violence be considered a possible response?
This has long been a key differentiator between what happened on Jan. 6 and other incidents in which politics and violence overlapped. On that day, the stakes were enormously high and the motivation entirely false. Thousands of people marched on the Capitol and hundreds forced their way in based on a deception promoted by a president eager to hang on to power. He convinced them that democracy had evaporated and, in recent weeks, has increasingly rationalized the attack that followed.
Saying that this remains dangerous is an understatement.