Jan. 6: A protest or insurrection?: Latest UMass poll splits along party lines


Staff Writer

Published: 01-13-2023 3:52 PM

AMHERST — Two years after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of former President Donald Trump forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, the views of what happened that day remain firmly entrenched along partisan lines, according to a new University of Massachusetts Amherst poll.

According to the poll, conducted Jan. 5-9 in partnership with polling organization YouGov, found that only 14% of Republicans view the events of that day as an “insurrection,” compared to 67% of Democrats and 30% of political independents.

In total, 41% of those polled said they viewed the events as an insurrection, down from 48% in an April 2021 UMass poll. Republicans were far more likely to call the event a protest, with 74% identifying it as such, compared to 53% of independents and 27% of Democrats.

The poll included interviews with more than 1,000 people from different walks of life and in different parts of the country.

“If you’re looking for why do Republicans have this impression that this was a protest, I would say a lot of that is motivated reasoning that they don’t want to think that their side has done something egregious,” said Alex Theodoridis, an assistant professor of political science at UMass and a co-director of the poll. “But the blame has to lay at the feet of Republican elites who have been passing along this message of not only was this not a big deal and a legitimate political discourse, but actually in some quarters that these people are being mistreated.”

But the UMass poll also indicates that Republican elites may be looking to move away from Trump in the coming presidential election. The poll showed that Republicans who were older, more educated and wealthier had Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as their preferred political candidate, not Trump. DeSantis slightly bested Trump when party members were polled on a one-on-one matchup, but Trump remained the favorite when the two were included in a larger field of other political candidates, such as former Vice President Mike Pence.

“DeSantis has emerged at this moment as the non-Trump alternative,” Theodoridis said. “So he’s getting support among more mainstream Republicans.”

Though most Republicans continue to view the Jan. 6 events as a political protest, hundreds of those who took part have been charged and convicted of crimes ranging from disorderly and disruptive conduct to assaulting and impeding officers, and a handful have been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on charges of seditious conspiracy. The trial of Enrique Tarrio, the leader of militant pro-Trump group The Proud Boys, along with four other members of the group, began on Thursday with federal prosecutors alleging sedition.

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has also appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to investigate Trump’s role in the Capitol breach as well as his handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence following his presidency. A special committee in the House of Representatives to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks voted to refer Trump to the Justice Department on charges related to the incident, but Trump has yet to be charged with any crime.

Election legitimacy

Political orientation also remained the greatest deciding factor in views regarding the legitimacy of the 2020 election, the reason behind the events of the Capitol attacks. Though 90% of Democrats and 42% of independents believe the election was legitimate, only 26% of Republicans believed so. Those numbers remaining virtually unchanged since the last UMass poll on the issue conducted in October.

With Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives following the 2022 midterm elections, Theodoridis pointed out that large majorities of Republicans polled were in favor of the House investigating current U.S. President Joe Biden in turn, supporting effoprts to impeach him and investigate matters relating to his son Hunter Biden, the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the handling of the border with Mexico, even if such measures have no hope of being approved in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“The notion that this is a party that’s moderating, that seems to me to be wishful thinking on the part of elite media,” Theodoridis said.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.