An overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, but most Republicans say President Donald Trump bears no responsibility for the assault — and nearly half say Republican lawmakers didn’t go far enough in supporting the president’s efforts to overturn the election’s results, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The poll — which surveys 1,002 US adults, and was taken from January 10 to 13 — paints a striking picture, and finds a national consensus on the impropriety of what transpired at the Capitol, while revealing familiar divisions on who is to blame for the episode.
The poll found that almost 9 in 10 Americans oppose the storming of the Capitol, and that 80 percent strongly oppose the attack.
But the country’s divisions are apparent in questions on who is to blame — and what, if any, repercussions Trump should face for promoting a “wild” rally that eventually overran the country’s legislature and resulted in the deaths of five people.
While majorities of the public disapprove of the president’s behavior, Trump still retains a large, if somewhat diminished, degree of support from Republicans, as does his disinformation campaign to discredit the 2020 election results.
The poll found 56 percent of Americans believe that Congress should remove Trump from office and prevent him from holding elected office in the future. But among Republicans, 89 percent oppose such a course of action.
The reason for that appears to be straightforward: The pollsters found most Republicans don’t think he did anything wrong.
While 66 percent of Americans believe Trump has acted irresponsibly in his statements and actions since the election, 66 percent of Republicans think he acted responsibly, according to the poll.
And while 57 percent of Americans believe Trump bears a great deal or good amount of responsibility for the violent attack, 56 percent of Republicans say Trump bears no responsibility — and another 22 percent say he bears some.
A large percentage of Republicans also feel GOP leaders should in fact have gone further in their efforts to back Trump’s bid to overturn the election results. While 52 percent of Americans believe GOP leaders went too far in supporting Trump’s false claims about the election results, 48 percent of Republicans said they did not go far enough.
A similar divide is also apparent in the poll’s results on whether Trump should be held legally liable for the attack. Most Americans think he should be criminally charged for his role; only 1 in 8 Republicans agree.
These findings of Republicans as reluctant to assign blame to Trump match trends in other surveys. As Vox’s Sean Collins wrote in an analysis of polling conducted immediately after the Capitol Hill attack, considerable portions of Republicans are inclined to believe that the riot was not only not Trump’s fault, but actually something Democrats should be blamed for.
“Instead of placing the insurrection at Trump’s feet, 52 percent of Republicans told YouGov that it was actually Biden’s fault; 42 percent of Republicans told Morning Consult the same — and 48 percent of Republicans told Morning Consult that Democrats in Congress were also to blame,” Collins wrote last week.
Trump’s support has dropped sharply, but hasn’t collapsed
There are, however, signs that a significant set of Republicans are skeptical that Trump is the right leader for their party going forward. According to the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, fewer than six in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say party leaders should follow Trump’s lead in the future, while 35 percent say they should move away from Trump — “a sentiment that has roughly doubled from 18 percent in 2018.”
As FiveThirtyEight’s approval poll tracker shows, Trump’s support had one of the biggest drops of his presidency after the attack, and he has reached the lowest level of support in his tenure, at an average of about 38 percent approval and 58 percent disapproval. A shift in Republicans’ views accounts for much of the drop.
Conservatives’ lingering commitment to Trump poses significant dilemmas for Republicans after Trump leaves office. Of late, Trump has taken a somewhat adversarial stance against certain segments of his party, threatening to back the primary opponents of lawmakers he does not like. Establishment Republicans are worried that a Trump-fueled split in the party could damage their prospects as they prepare for midterm elections.
And some Republican lawmakers find Trump’s political style unpredictable, overly transgressive of political norms, and a distraction from their policy agenda. This is reportedly part of why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is said to be contemplating voting to convict Trump in a Senate impeachment trial and why some Republicans are already working to defeat Trump-style candidates in the 2022 elections.
But, as this poll demonstrates, Trump still has the enthusiastic support of many in the GOP. Regardless of how top lawmakers in the party may view him, they could risk alienating their own base if they try to move too far away from him, or sanction him.