Confidence in the integrity of the presidential election has been worryingly low for months – in large part due to President Trump’s repeated false claims that the election was stolen from him. And on Wednesday we saw an extreme example of the consequences of this distrust when Pro-Trump extremists briefly but violently occupied the US Capitol.
This was undoubtedly a historic and troubling moment. However, it is important to remember that this did not happen in a vacuum, as evidenced by polls on issues related to Wednesday’s violation – confidence in the elections, support for the president, confidence in institutions – and a comparison with the most analogous yielding event in recent US history: the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Taken together, these suggest that the attack on the Capitol shows how far-right views have become palatable to more members of an increasingly isolated and angry Trump base, even as they shock the rest of the country.
“There weren’t any ordinary people in Charlottesville, just the hardcore extremists. But on Wednesday there was [ordinary people]”Said Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.” In many ways, it’s a metaphor for Trumpism. He took up these ideas in a way that I think is impossible. It came to light on Wednesday in an extraordinarily ugly and violent way. “
Polls so far – and we are very early in this news cycle – have shown that a solid majority of Americans opposed the riots in Washington, DC YouGov survey71 percent of the registered voters were against the “storming of the Capitol” (63 percent of them “strong”), and 62 percent saw it as “a threat to democracy”. Similarly, 70 percent of those surveyed have one Ipsos poll opposed “the protesters who broke into the Capitol.” And after a Morning Consult / Politico surveyFifty-nine percent of the registered voters believe that the perpetrators should be viewed as “domestic terrorists”.
Quite a few 19 percent of respondents from Ipsos said they supported the rioters. In the YouGov poll, 21 percent said the same thing (including 14 percent who strongly supported storming the Capitol), and 32 percent did not believe the occupation posed a threat to democracy. Those who supported it were disproportionately Republican: 45 percent of GOP voters supported the siege, while 43 percent opposed it.
Older polls, asking how Americans view the legitimacy of the November election – the complaint that fueled the uprising – are also telling. A few weeks after the election, our colleague Dhrumil Mehta wrote that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Republicans doubted the election was fair (it was), after several surveys. And a recent national gold standard survey conducted December 16-20 by Suffolk Universityfound that 37 percent of registered voters – including 78 percent of Republicans – did not believe that Joe Biden was rightly elected president.
These polls asked about people’s confidence in the election results – not whether they were willing to accept the results much harder to measure. For example, you can imagine that some people thought the election was unfair but resigned themselves to the fact that Biden would eventually take office. However, there are some polls that suggest that a significant number of Republicans actually wanted to turn the outcome of a free and fair election upside down and install Trump for a second term. The exact number depends on the poll and the wording of the question, but in general it’s nearly half of Republicans who have said they supported the siege of the Capitol. Namely:
- According to a poll conducted just before election day by Brendan Hartnett and Alexandra Haver from Tufts UniversityAround 40 percent of Trump supporters wanted Trump to try to stay in office even if he lost. Remarkably, between a third and a half of Trump voters said the same thing, almost regardless of how much Trump lost, suggesting that those respondents were willing to keep the vote in the event of an overwhelming Biden win (up to around 12 points ) overthrow to get their preferred president.
- A YouGov / Bright Line Watch poll Shortly after Biden won the election, 48 percent of Trump supporters noted that Trump would be inaugurated on Jan. 20. And around 20 percent of Trump supporters said they would resort to violence if the Democrats won the election.
- And in the Suffolk poll mentioned above, 26 percent of all voters, including 57 percent of Republicans, still believed that Trump should not allow the election even though the electoral college had already voted for Biden’s victory at the time the vote was held.
- Most recently, in a survey conducted on Monday and Tuesday (shortly before the attack), Consult tomorrow found that only 24 percent of all registered voters said members of Congress should object to electoral college vote certification. However, a majority (53 percent) of Republicans believed that Congress should object.
In trying to put this week into context, we don’t have a clear analogue. A comparison, however, would be the uprising and violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 at the One counter-protester was killed. Trump weakly condemned these events, as he did with the Capitol mob on Wednesday, and in both cases the violence was inextricably linked to white identity issues and the complaint – Topics that motivated lots Perpetrator of the attack on Washington this week.
Polls taken after Charlottesville found that Republicans are more likely than other Americans to express a strong attachment to a white identity. For example a survey by Reuters / Ipsos and the University of Virginia Center for Politics While about a third of Americans agreed that “America must preserve its white European heritage,” twice as many Republicans (44 percent) agreed as Democrats (22 percent). And while 38 percent of Republicans believed that racist minorities in the United States were “attacked”, 63 percent said the same thing about whites. Although polls generally found that 10 percent or less of all respondents were in favor of concepts like “white nationalism” or groups like “alt-right” when they were named by those names, a significant number of Republicans believed that their identity was white present was in danger and had to be protected from aligning with elements of white supremacist ideology once the label was removed.
Republicans were also far more positive about Trump’s response to the violence – in which he said there was “very good people on both sides”- than most Americans. For example, Quinnipiac University found that only 32 percent of registered voters approved of Trump’s answer, but 69 percent of Republicans backed it. And 59 percent of all respondents believed that Trump’s decisions and behavior had encouraged white supremacist groups, but only 18 percent of Republicans believed.
However, it seems like more Americans – including Republicans – would be willing to blame Trump this time around than after Charlottesville. For example, this Morning Consult poll found that 63 percent of registered voters believe Trump was responsible for the mob attack in Washington, including 41 percent of Republicans. Similarly, 66 percent of voters told YouGov that Trump was to blame, although only 28 percent of Republicans in that poll agreed.
What happened after Charlottesville might provide some clues as to where things will go from here. After the Unite the Right rally, there were some splinters among far-right groups, according to Alex Newhouse, director of research at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counter-Terrorism at Middlebury College. The Proud Boys, for example fought against internal turbulence about the participation of some members in the rally and some of its leaders tried to distance the group of white supremacy, at least on paper, Newhouse said. But other right-wing groups were awakened by the events in Charlottesville.
“Despite public outrage, despite the death of a woman and the ensuing arrests, the white supremacists have been encouraged, especially after the president said there were ‘good people’ on both sides,” Greenblatt said.
To the general American public, Charlottesville was a wake-up call that showed how hearty the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements remain in the United States. But while many politicians including Republicans, condemned the rally, Trump’s response only strengthened existing far-right views, Newhouse said.
“These far-right groups felt more and more isolated from mainstream media and politics, and some of them saw Trump as their only defender in it,” Newhouse said.
There are many differences between these two events, but one important difference is the fact that, as Greenblatt mentioned, the Unite the Right gathering was attended almost entirely by white nationalists, while the Capitol uprising on Wednesday was much larger. who were not part of an organized white supremacist group. This is worrying, Greenblatt pointed out, as it indicates that these ideas are seeping into the mainstream from the fringes. And this seepage, combined with fears about white identity and Trump’s instigation, may have increased Republicans’ receptivity to political violence. A January 2020 study of Republican voters Political scientist Larry Bartels found that 51 percent believed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so quickly that we may need to use violence to save it.”
And these dramatic events are the products of a much larger issue: belief in our institutions and in democracy itself is waning in this country. Last year a report from the Voter Study Group of the Democracy Fund found that a third of Americans had endorsed authoritarian ideas at some point in the past three years, and polls by YouGov Blue, reported by our colleagues last year, found Republicans in particular liked democracy and the institutions they support suffered. As the events on Wednesday made shockingly clear, this is not just a philosophical debate. It is a real and present threat to the way we live.