Americans by overwhelming margins see the nation’s democracy as in peril, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll finds, but that chilling consensus is based on starkly conflicting assessments of the assault on the U.S. Capitol one year ago.
The clash over what happened and why last Jan. 6 underscores how unsettled the political landscape remains, even as prayer vigils and news conferences commemorate the anniversary of the violent protest that failed to prevent the official certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Across partisan lines, more than 8 in 10 Republicans, Democrats and independents say they are worried about the future of America’s democracy. They disagree on whether the Jan. 6 mob represented an effort to undermine democracy or to fix it. Eighty-five percent of Democrats call the rioters “criminals.” Two-thirds of Republicans say, “They went too far, but they had a point.”
A majority of Republicans, 58%, say Joe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected to the White House, even though audits and investigations in a half-dozen states debunked former President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud.
“He created doubt where there is no doubt,” said Candice Walters, 44, a ticket broker from Bountiful, Utah, who was called in the poll. “That is really the risk to democracy, is the fact that no one’s ever going to believe anything ever again. There are certain people that will never trust another election as long as they live. They’ll always feel like they were wronged or scammed or whatever.”
Watching the attack unfold on TV last year was “horrifying,” she said in a follow-up interview.
Scot Van Handel, 50, the owner of a construction business in Hortonville, Wisconsin, had a different view. “I think people were down there to protest for a rightful protest,” he said, and things went “a little bit too far.”
The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken by landline and cellphone Dec. 27-30, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
More:Americans saw 2021 as ‘chaos’ and a ‘train wreck’ but are hopeful about 2022, USA TODAY/Suffolk poll shows
The special House committee investigating Jan. 6 plans to hold public hearings within the next few months to lay out its findings on how the rally near the White House on Jan. 6 was organized and financed and how the attack on the Capitol unfolded. An interim report will be released this summer and a final report before the end of the year, chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said.
The timetable is tight because the panel is likely to be disbanded if Republicans gain control of the House in the midterms, as many political analysts predict.
Americans are divided about the value of the committee’s work. A 53% majority say its investigation is “important for the future of democracy”; 42% call it “a waste of time away from other important issues.”
On that, there is the sort of partisan split that marks almost every aspect of American politics: 88% of Democrats say the committee’s work is important; 78% of Republicans call it a waste of time.
“It’s already been done; it’s over,” Van Handel scoffed. “Just let water over the dam be water over the dam.”
What we know:White House, Congress to mark first anniversary of Jan. 6 with remarks, more
Mary Ann Chaffin, 86, a retiree from Aurora, Colorado, and a political independent, said the Jan. 6 assault was “very disheartening” and the investigation of it crucial. She praised two Republican House members, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who defied the GOP leadership and agreed to serve on the panel.
“As long as there are people like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney on that committee, I do have faith in it,” Chaffin said, “and I would hope that a few more brave Republicans would come forward and participate.”
Most aren’t convinced that the House committee will be able to provide a full and complete account of what happened. A 54% majority say they are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” about the final report. Just 10% are “very confident” about its findings and a third, 34%, are “somewhat” confident.
“The poll tells us that no matter how hard the committee works and exercises its due diligence, it faces a majority of voters who are not confident that it will meet its objectives,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk’s Political Research Center. “And when only 10% are very confident, that’s daunting.”
Related:10 political events that will shape 2022 elections: From redistricting to CPAC to Jan. 6
By nearly 4-to-1, 71%-19%, Americans say the nation’s democracy is weaker than it was four years ago. That is almost the same finding in a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll taken a year ago, soon after the attack, when that was the view of 70%-17%.
In other words, a year later, voters have gained no more confidence that the threats to democracy have been effectively addressed.
They split almost evenly on whether a similar attack on the Capitol will happen: 48% say it’s not likely; 46% say it is.
“The way things went down, I can see it happening again,” said Judith Cook, 62, a retired school bus driver from Greenville, South Carolina. “Shouldn’t be able to, but I could see it happening again.”
USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll: Americans, braced for violence at the inauguration, see democracy damaged after Trump
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