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UMass Amherst Poll Finds Softening of Some Americans’ Views on the Events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021

Two years later, nearly half the country views the events at the Capitol as a “protest,” and the nation is evenly divided on whether it’s time to move on from what happened that day in the halls of Congress

Two years after the attack on the U.S. Capitol to disrupt President Joe Biden’s election certification on Jan. 6, 2021, a new national University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll finds Americans’ views softening on the day’s events and a growing belief that the nation should “move on” from the attack on our democracy.

The poll, conducted Jan. 5-9, found that while more than half (55%) of the 1,000 respondents say Jan. 6 was a “riot,” nearly half (49%) now say that “protest” best describes the day’s events, up from 43% in the first UMass Poll conducted on the topic in April 2021. Meanwhile, there was a marked decrease in the percentage of respondents who consider Jan. 6 an “insurrection,” from 48% to 41%.

“In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, many in the mainstream media and prominent elected officials described the event as an ‘insurrection’ and those responsible for the violence that day as ‘insurrectionists,’ embracing a term used to describe an organized and violent uprising against one’s own government,” says Tatishe Nteta, provost professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “However, the majority of Americans when reflecting on Jan. 6 have viewed the event as a ‘riot’ and the participants as ‘rioters.’”

Tatishe Nteta
Tatishe Nteta

Nteta notes the partisanship driving the views of the poll’s respondents. “Republicans, when reflecting on Jan. 6 and the participants involved in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, are less likely to view the individuals responsible for this attack in a negative light,” he says. “Republicans since we began polling on these questions consistently eschew words like ‘terrorists,’ ‘looters’ or ‘mob’ when describing these individuals and are more likely to embrace more positive words, with a majority of Republicans describing those who attempted to violently interfere in the 2020 presidential election as ‘protestors.’”

Among Democrats, however, more than two-thirds consider Jan. 6 an “insurrection” (67%) and “riot” (72%), while just over half (51%) say it was a “coup.” Likewise, Democrats view the participants of the attack on the Capitol as “rioters” (69%), “insurrectionists” (65%), “mob” (64%), “white nationalists” (62%) and “terrorists” (60%).

Responsibility for Jan. 6 and Views on the Jan. 6 Committee

ray la raja
Raymond La Raja

“Did the House Select Committee change minds about who was responsible for Jan. 6, or simply remind people of what they felt at the outset? It’s not clear from our survey,” Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll, says. “In more than a year and a half there’s been no change in the percentage of voters who hold Trump responsible for the insurrection – even with the exposure of his actions by Congress and the Department of Justice. When offered a range of choices, from the U.S. Capitol Police to White Nationalists, 44-45% of voters say Trump is to blame, and older people are somewhat more likely to blame Trump.”

“Not only do Americans view Trump as responsible,” Nteta adds, “but a majority (53%) support the former president being charged with a crime for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.”

“This majority holds among almost all demographic groups, with the exceptions of those with less than a high school degree (45%) and whites (47%); and even among these two groups, the share that supports prosecution is larger than the share that does not,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll. “Thus, while there is disagreement among Americans about whether Trump should be charged, it is not the case that Americans are equally divided on the issue. Rather, a majority of Americans supports prosecution; a vocal minority – roughly a third – opposes it; and a small fraction is unsure.”

jesse rhodes
Jesse Rhodes

In a reflection of the power of this partisanship, though, Rhodes notes that only 13% of Republicans believe that Trump was primarily responsible for the attack on the Capitol. In fact, fully half of the Republicans surveyed blame either the U.S. Capitol Police (26%) or the Democratic Party (24%) for what happened that day.

The respondents were similarly divided on their views of the Jan. 6 Committee and its findings.

“Although a plurality (40%) of Americans believes the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol achieved its goals of investigating and reporting on the attack, nearly a third (30%) disagree, and another 30% expresses ambivalence or uncertainty,” Rhodes says. “About 35% of Americans oppose the Department of Justice charging former president Trump with a crime for his role in the events of Jan. 6, and roughly a third strongly disapprove of the job done by the House Select Committee. Republicans and conservatives are particularly adamant that Trump should not be charged, with roughly three-quarters of each group in opposition. Clearly, despite its best efforts the House Select Committee was unable to win over many Republicans, who continue to stick with the former president.”

“Unsurprisingly, only a smattering of Republicans (13%) believe that the Committee achieved its goal of uncovering the facts associated with the events of Jan. 6,” Nteta says.  “However, in the wake of the committee’s investigation and their findings concerning former President Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, we do find a slow but steady increase in support among Republicans for Trump being charged for his role in the insurrection – up from just 7% in April 2021 to 17% in this poll. Whether this drip will turn into a deluge of support by Republicans for charging Trump is unlikely, but worth paying attention to as Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice contemplate whether to pursue criminal charges against the former president.”

Alex Theodoridis
Alexander Theodoridis

“The dominant narrative following a disappointing Republican showing in the 2022 midterm elections and compelling ‘closing arguments’ from the House Jan. 6 Committee has focused on Republicans distancing themselves from Donald Trump, his election denialism, and his failed attempt to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election,” says Alexander Theodoridis, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll. “While hints of such a shift can be seen among GOP elites, the results from our latest poll, which was in the field precisely two years after the siege on the U.S. Capitol, make it clear the Republican rank-and-file have yet to receive the memo about quitting Trump.”

“Moreover,” La Raja points out, “there has been a slight uptick in the past two years of voters saying ‘it is time to move on’ from the investigation, increasing from 44% to 50%.”

Legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 Election Victory

“It appears that the years-long effort to question the veracity of the 2020 election results by prominent members of the Republican Party and conservative media continues to fall on deaf ears,” Nteta says. “As President Biden contemplates whether he will pursue a second term in office and prospective Republican presidential candidates stand poised to announce their run to be the next Commander in Chief, the number of Americans who believe that Biden’s victory was legitimate has held steady with close to six in 10 Americans (57%) opining that the election was ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ legitimate. However, while the majority of Americans have moved on from the purported controversy surrounding Biden’s victory in 2020, Republicans still can’t quit the so-called ‘Big Lie.’”


The percentage of the poll’s respondents who view President Biden’s election as legitimate


The percentage of the poll’s Republican respondents who view President Biden’s election as legitimate

“Does Biden get any new credibility from Trump voters?,” La Raja asks. “There is actually an uptick among Trump voters that Biden’s election was legitimate, but it is still only 24% of Trump voters – compared to 15% back in April 2021. We still have a problem if just one in four of the opposition party voters believe the president is elected legitimately, and it shows the lasting effect of politicians not accepting the results.

“Biden has experienced a fairly significant drop off among low-income voters who think his election was legitimate,” he explains. “Among those making less than $40,000, nearly half (49%) say Biden’s election was definitely or probably legitimate, but it was 62% in April 2021. My only explanation is that the swirl of conspiracy theories keeps seeping into the American electorate, particularly for those who might not be doing as well economically.”

“Two years later, the Jan. 6 attack continues to divide – and confuse – Americans,” Rhodes ultimately concludes, “and increased information about the event has done little to ameliorate this situation.”


This University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll of 1,000 respondents nationwide was conducted by YouGov Jan. 5-9. YouGov interviewed 1,051 total respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 1,000 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The sampling frame is a politically representative “modeled frame” of U.S. adults, based upon the American Community Survey (ACS) public use microdata file, public voter file records, the 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration supplements, the 2020 National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll and the 2020 CES surveys, including demographics and 2020 presidential vote.

The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education and region. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The weights were then post-stratified on 2020 presidential vote choice, and then post-stratified on the variables of gender, age (4-categories), race (4-categories) and education (4-categories) to produce the final weight.

The margin of error within this poll is 3.55%.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll