The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Jan. 6 committee has its work cut out for it

The House Jan. 6 investigation committee has conducted over 1,000 interviews with insurrectionists and Trump aides. Here’s what’s next. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)
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Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s political career, few things have aided him as much as the passage of time and the tendency for memories — and for outrage — to fade. Repeatedly — most notably during the Russia investigation — Trump seemed to benefit from the sheer difficulty in keeping people tuned in for as long as it takes to investigate something in-depth.

Robert S. Mueller III ran through real evidence of potential obstruction of justice by a sitting president, but it changed few people’s minds. And by the time a bipartisan Senate report suggested that there might have indeed been some real collusion between Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russia, it landed with a relative whimper.

Such is the increasingly evident hurdle for the Jan. 6 committee. And a new poll reinforces how much that committee has its work cut out for it when its long-awaited (at least in some circles) hearings begin Thursday.

The NBC News poll shows 45 percent of Americans say Trump is either “solely” or “mainly” responsible for rioters overtaking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. That number is down slightly from 52 percent shortly after the Capitol insurrection.

As notably, the number who say Trump is “solely” responsible has declined from 28 percent in January 2021 to 17 percent today. And the overall decline spans Republicans, Democrats and independents, all of whose numbers blaming Trump declined by at least a couple points.

In some ways, this makes sense. We have indeed learned that plenty of others played a role in fomenting what became the insurrection; hundreds have been charged, and some have even been charged with seditious conspiracy. So the idea that Trump is “solely” responsible, understandably, might be less attractive than it was 17 months ago. That would explained why 53 percent of Democrats said Trump was “solely” responsible earlier this year, but just 34 percent say that today. And perhaps even people who blame Trump have been pushed out of the “mainly” camp for similar reasons. The roots of that day are much more complex than just Trump’s speech on the Ellipse.

But this isn’t the first poll to suggest that the anger at, interest in and views of Trump’s culpability have all at least somewhat waned.

While a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in December showed relatively little shift — 6 in 10 said Trump bore at least a “good amount” of blame — more recent polling suggests that began to change by the first anniversary, a month later.

A January 2022 Pew Research Center poll showed the percentage saying Trump bore “a lot” of blame dropping from 52 percent to 43 percent.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted around the same time showed a decline in emphasis on the year-old tragedy. The pollster has given people two options: that Jan. 6 “was an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten” or that “too much is being made of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and it is time to move on.” While people preferred the former by a 19-point margin in August, that shrank to six points by the first anniversary.

Similar to each of these 2022 polls, a YouGov survey conducted for the University of Massachusetts last month showed a 10-point decline in those who strongly supported ongoing efforts to hold those responsible for Jan. 6 accountable. It went from 52 percent in April 2021 to 46 percent in December 2021 to 42 percent today.

In that poll, support for charging Trump with a crime was actually somewhat higher: 49 percent. But it suggests interest in that process of accountability has waned even among people like that.

All told, these polls suggest a decline in emphasis on the insurrection, a decline in the desire for a concerted accountability push and a decline in belief in Trump’s culpability. All are slight, but the trend is relatively consistent.

All of this, it bears emphasizing, could change once the hearings begin. The committee is holding some of its hearings in prime time. People who might have gradually tuned this story out could suddenly be pulled back in, now that they’re getting more than the occasional new development. Perhaps there will be something that truly moves the ball forward.

Committee member Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), for one, has promised the proceedings will “blow the roof off the House.” We shall see — but we’ve also seen how people’s attention spans can turn even evidence that seems explosive at the time into old news.