One year after the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided over what happened that day and the degree to which former president Donald Trump bears responsibility for the assault, amid more universal signs of flagging pride in the workings of democracy at home, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.
Partisan divisions related both to the Jan. 6 assault and the 2020 presidential election color nearly every issue raised in the survey, from how much violence occurred at the Capitol that day to the severity of the sentences handed down to convicted protesters to whether President Biden was legitimately elected. Only on a question about injured law enforcement officers is there broad bipartisan agreement.
The percentage of Americans who say violent action against the government is justified at times stands at 34 percent, which is considerably higher than in past polls by The Post or other major news organizations dating back more than two decades. Again, the view is partisan: The new survey finds 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats saying violence is sometimes justified.
On Jan. 6, the day Congress was to ratify the 2020 electoral college vote, Trump claimed at a rally near the White House that the election had been rigged and urged his followers to “fight like hell” to stop what he said was a stolen outcome. Many of his supporters walked to the Capitol from the rally and took part in the violence.
Overall, 60 percent of Americans say Trump bears either a “great deal” or a “good amount” of responsibility for the insurrection, but 72 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Trump voters say he bears “just some” responsibility or “none at all.”
Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of the election have spawned ongoing efforts in some states to revisit the results. No such inquiry has turned up anything to suggest that the certified results were inaccurate. That has not blunted a persistent belief by most of his supporters that the election was somehow rigged.
Overall, the Post-UMD survey finds that 68 percent of Americans say there is no solid evidence of widespread fraud but 30 percent say there is.
Big majorities of Democrats (88 percent) and independents (74 percent) say there is no evidence of such irregularities, but 62 percent of Republicans say there is such evidence. That is almost identical to the percentage of Republicans who agreed with Trump’s claims of voter fraud a week after that Capitol attack, based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll at the time.
About 7 in 10 Americans say Biden’s election as president was legitimate, but that leaves almost 3 in 10 who say it was not, including 58 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of independents. The 58 percent of Republicans who say Biden was not legitimately elected as president is down somewhat from 70 percent in a Post-ABC poll conducted in January shortly after the Capitol attack.
Among those who say they voted for Trump in 2020, 69 percent now say Biden was not legitimately elected, while 97 percent of Biden voters say the current president was legitimately elected.
Republicans’ rejection of Biden’s victory is not novel. In a fall 2017 Post-UMD poll, 67 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Hillary Clinton voters said Trump was not legitimately elected president. The current poll was conducted Dec. 17-19 by The Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement.
Overall, the new survey reflects how much the partisan wars continue to rage across the country a full year after the Jan. 6 riot. Trump has fueled the discord with falsehoods about election irregularities, and most Republican elected officials have turned their backs on any serious investigation of the roots of the attack and exactly what transpired that day. Hopes for unity have largely faded as doubts about democracy have grown.
The Jan. 6 attack left one police officer and four others dead, and scores injured, particularly those in law enforcement who were overwhelmed for a time as the mob of protesters broke into the Capitol. Since then, some Republicans have sought to play down the violence, with one member of Congress even saying the mob resembled ordinary tourists rather than attackers.
Trump also has sought to minimize the violence of the day, contending falsely in December that “remember, the insurrection took place on November 3rd, it was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th.”
Today, 54 percent of Americans characterize the protesters who entered the Capitol as “mostly violent,” while 19 percent call them “mostly peaceful” and another 27 percent say they were equally peaceful and violent. Broken down by party, 78 percent of Democrats describe the protesters as mostly violent compared with 26 percent of Republicans. Thirty-six percent of Republicans say the protesters were mostly peaceful, compared to 5 percent of Democrats.
A bare majority overall (51 percent) say the legal punishments for those who broke the law that day are not harsh enough, with 19 percent saying they are too harsh and 28 percent saying overall they have been fair. The partisan differences are virtually identical to perceptions about how violent the protesters were, with 77 percent of Democrats calling the penalties not harsh enough compared with 26 percent of Republicans. Seven in 10 Republicans say the penalties have been either fair (38 percent) or too harsh (32 percent).
An estimated 140 law enforcement personnel were injured during the attack, a fact that overwhelming majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents agree happened. The survey finds that 96 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of independents say that protesters injured police during the attack.
Partisan divisions also largely disappear on a question about pride in democracy itself, with 54 percent saying they are either “very” or “somewhat” proud of the way democracy is working in the United States. That includes 60 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents.
But that finding, while narrowly in positive territory, highlights what has been a dramatic and steady two-decade decline in how Americans feel about their democracy. In the fall of 2002, a year after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 90 percent of adults expressed pride in the workings of American democracy. Twelve years later, it had fallen to 74 percent and, in the fall of 2017, it had dropped again to 63 percent.
Notably, in 2002, 49 percent of adults said they were “very proud” of the way democracy was working in this country. In the new survey, that number had plunged to 11 percent as both sides found reasons for dismay.
Two decades ago, Republicans and Democrats were uniform in their pride in democracy, with more than 9 in 10 in each party expressing positive views. That trend continued throughout the following decade or more, though overall pride in democracy was sliding down among both groups and independents. In 2017, a partisan division opened, with Republicans more positive than Democrats in the wake of Trump’s election. Today, as the percentage who express pride has fallen further, Republicans and Democrats are closer together in their views; about 4 in 10 of each say they are not proud.
A majority of most demographic groups in the survey expressed pride in democracy. But two somewhat overlapping groups stand out for their pessimism. Among independents who say they do not lean to either party, 58 percent say they are not proud of the current workings of U.S. democracy. Similarly, among those ages 18-29, 54 percent have a negative perception of democracy as it exists in this country today.
There is little difference in perceptions depending on which cable news sources they watch. Those who watch Fox News and those who watch CNN have almost identical views about how they feel about democracy today. In both cases, nearly 6 in 10 say they have some pride about democracy’s workings, while among those who watch MSNBC, just over 6 in 10 are positive.
The past year has seen an intense debate over the rules and regulations governing elections. In some Republican-controlled states, new laws have been passed that would restrict voting, with some provisions seen as falling hardest on African Americans, Hispanics and the elderly. Democrats nationally have championed federal legislation designed to expand voting rights but have not been able to get their bills through the Senate.
Looking ahead, more than 1 in 3 Americans say they are not confident that their votes will be counted in the 2022 elections, including nearly 6 in 10 Republicans and under 2 in 10 Democrats. Similarly, about 1 in 3 adults overall say they are not confident that all eligible citizens will have an opportunity to vote, with Democrats more pessimistic in this case than Republicans.
Majorities of Democrats and Republicans doubt the other party will accept election results in states they control, though Democrats are more skeptical of Republicans than vice versa. Among Republicans, 56 percent say they are not confident that state officials in Democratic-controlled states will accept election results if their party loses, while 43 percent are confident in this.
Among Democrats, 67 percent are not confident that officials in Republican-controlled states will accept a losing result, while 32 percent are confident. Among independents, 71 percent are confident that officials in Democratic-led states will accept a losing result, compared with 51 percent who say the same about Republican-controlled states.
The poll was conducted among 1,101 U.S. adults. They were interviewed through the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based survey panel of nonpartisan research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Interviews were conducted online and by phone; overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.