The January 6 committee’s biggest task is getting people to care

June 08, 2022

In his new book The Right, conservative journalist Matthew Continetti describes the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot as the decisive event in Donald Trump’s presidency: one that transformed it from what he sees as a largely successful enterprise into a disastrous one.

“If Trump had followed the example of his predecessors and conceded power graciously, he would have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential populist leader,” Continetti writes. “Instead, when historians write about the Trump era, they will do so through the lens of January 6.”

If polling data is anything to go by, few Americans share Continetti’s view. Those who disliked Trump before January 6 continued to do so after January 6; those who approved of him beforehand largely still did afterwards. A RealClearPolitics poll average shows that a short-term collapse in his approval rating after the Capitol riot has fully reversed; his net approval rating today, while negative, is still about 1.5 percentage points higher than Joe Biden’s...

This theory is supported by an impressive body of political science research documenting the powerful warping effect partisanship has on the American population’s judgment. One of the best of these papers, from George Washington University’s Matthew Graham and Yale’s Milan Svolik, polled Americans on whether they would vote against candidates from their party if they engaged in certain anti-democratic behaviors (e.g., “ignores unfavorable court rulings from [opposite party] judges”). Even in such a hypothetical case only a small minority would be willing to do so; their research suggests the numbers would likely be substantially lower in a real-world election.

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