Public Opinion on January 6, 2021

This report provides an overview of polling done by outside organizations on public opinion about the events of January 6th and provides an overview of poll findings from a Public Wise poll conducted with Change Research in early October 2021.

Outside polls have focused on topics such as whether January 6th participants should be prosecuted, the January 6th congressional committee and investigation, whether there has been too much or too little attention paid to the events of January 6th, who is to blame for the violence, and the nature and implications of what happened. 

Public Wise polling focused on how to characterize the events and participants, specific modes of accountability for participants and elected officials who took part in different aspects of January 6th, and the importance of remembering January 6th as a significant moment in American history compared to other recent important events.  

Findings from all relevant polling on January 6th paint a picture of a split public. There are huge partisan divides with regards to most aspects of January 6th. 

There is generally majority support for accountability, but this seems to be driven primarily by very high support among Democrats, generally low support among Republicans, and mixed support among Independents, which averages to small majorities in favor of accountability. 

There is also a divide in how the events are labeled and interpreted. Democrats appear to be more comfortable with words like insurrection and coup. 

When we do not separate by party identification, the most popular characterization for January 6th is to call it a riot. Even when respondents are willing to label the events from that day treason or insurrection, there seems to be some discomfort labeling participants traitors or insurrectionists. 

This may speak to a general queasiness at ascribing motives to actors even when condemning their actions. 

Finally, Democrats and Republicans place very different levels of existential importance on the events of January 6th. Democrats are more likely to say that what happened on January 6th changed their view of the world, and they are more likely to say more attention needs to be paid to it, accountability should be had for it, and the events should be remembered in American history. 

Republicans are more likely to say too much attention has been paid, it is not important to remember, too much is already known, and people do not need to be held accountable. 

This implies two groups with very different understandings of the implications of the events as they relate to American democracy. Meanwhile, Independents are in the middle, relatively divided among themselves on most questions. In this respect, Independents are better examined via their reported ideology than their party ID, or lack thereof.

This report was prepared by Jessica Kalbfeld, PhD, Director of Research at Public Wise, with support from the Public Wise Research department. All information comes from publicly available polling conducted and commissioned by outside organizations, or from Public Wise’s own polling conducted in conjunction with Change Research, a Public Benefit Corporation. 

Please direct all questions and inquiries to Sara Moore, PhD, Deputy Director of Research at Public Wise (sara.moore@publicwise.org). 

Key Takeaways

  • There are huge partisan splits on most topics related to January 6th
  • Ideology may be a better divider of opinion than party identification – progressives and liberals are aligned regardless of party, while moderates and conservatives tend to be more split – and because outside polling does not tend to stratify by ideology they may be missing important splits among Independents and within self-identified Republicans 
  • Despite rejecting partisan labels, Independents are split ideologically – with liberal and progressive Independents answering like Democrats and conservative Independents answering more like Republicans
  • While support for prosecuting January 6th participants has remained high among Democrats, Republican support for prosecution has dropped over time
  • Democrats are more likely to think that penalties for January 6th participants are not severe enough while more than one-third of Republicans say penalties have been too severe and only one-fifth agree they have not been severe enough
  • Belief in a Trump victory makes Republicans more likely to think that the penalties have been too severe and less likely to think that prosecution is important
  • A majority of Americans agreed there should be an investigation into the events of January 6th — Democrats show much more support for this than Republicans — and now that there is such an investigation, the majority of Americans do not think it will be fair and reasonable
  • The number of Americans who think that too little attention has been paid to January 6th has risen since March, but that number is still only about one-third of the American public, and a majority of Republicans think that too much attention has been paid
  • Black Americans are more likely than any other group to think that too little attention has been paid to January 6th
  • A majority of Americans place the blame for the violence on January 6th on Trump, white supremacists, and conservative media that spreads conspiracy theories, but Republicans were less likely to blame Trump in June than they were in January
  • The most agreed upon characterization for the events of January 6th is to call it a “riot,” followed by an “insurrection,” although Public Wise found that “rioters” and “protesters” were more popular terms for the actors than “traitors” or “insurrectionists”
  • A majority of Americans agree that January 6th was an attempt to overturn the election and an attack on democracy
  • Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or Independents to say that participants in the events of January 6th should be held accountable if a court determines their actions broke the law
  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans or Independents to say it is important to keep track of participants after they stand trial
  • A majority of Americans do not think that January 6th participants should hold or seek public office, but that is largely driven by Democrats while a majority of Republicans oppose barring participants from public office and Independents are split
  • A majority of Americans do not think participants should be in positions paid for by taxpayer dollars, including police and other law enforcement agencies
  • A vast majority of Democrats think that elected officials should not remain in office if they participated in January 6th in a variety of ways; while a majority of Republicans agree with most Democrats that elected officials should not remain in office if they coordinated with protestors ahead of time to tell them the layout of the Capitol Building, a majority do think they should remain in office if they spoke at the rally and voted against certifying the election, and they are split on whether elected officials should remain in office if they funded buses
  • There is a partisan split on the importance of remembering January 6th as an event in American history
  • For both Democrats and Republicans, there is high motivation to vote in upcoming elections, regardless of opinion on January 6th accountability

Public Opinion on January 6, 2021