New UMass Poll Shows a GOP Still in Trump’s Grip

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KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— Seven in 10 Republicans still believe Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate.

— While almost all Democrats support law enforcement efforts to track down and prosecute those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, only 28% of Republicans support those efforts.

— Republicans say they would punish GOP candidates who voted to impeach Donald Trump or establish a commission to investigate the events of January 6 and be more likely to vote for Republicans who questioned the legitimacy of Biden's victory.

— Fifty-five percent of Republicans list Donald Trump as their first choice for the 2024 Republican nomination, and 3 out of 4 have him in their top 3.

New polling on Jan. 6

As the world watched a mob of Trump supporters violently breach the United States Capitol Building, interrupting the counting of Electoral College votes, Donald Trump’s staunchest allies privately conveyed their horror and concern to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “He's got to condemn this sh*t ASAP,” wrote Donald Trump, Jr.

“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” wrote Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”

“Please, get him on TV,” urged Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade. “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”

A year later, the reality appears to be that these cautions were almost entirely wrong. Sure, Trump is likely to be looked upon poorly by historians in the future, and the attack on the Capitol, atrocious attempts to overturn election 2020, and the resultant second impeachment promise to figure prominently in these negative evaluations. But, Trump’s long-term legacy was unlikely to be favorable regardless, and the former president will be long gone by the time the histories are written. His behavior has long suggested someone far more concerned with maximizing immediate, ephemeral fame and relevance, very much subscribing to the Woody Allen “do you think Shakespeare cares about his legacy?” school of thought.

Other than getting him booted from Twitter, Jan. 6 and persistent spouting of his Big Lie have almost certainly kept Trump more relevant than he would’ve been otherwise. Instead of just being a one-term president who conceded defeat, Trump continues to dominate the Republican Party and remains the focus of Democratic dismay. These affronts to decency and attacks on American democracy have simply taken their place on a long list of transgressions many thought Trump couldn’t survive (the Access Hollywood tape, saying there were “some very fine people on both sides” after white supremacists marched on Charlottesville, pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival, etc.).

With the Big Lie and Jan. 6, Trump once again applied a strategy of never accepting blame, conceding defeat or acknowledging failure. And, once again, he has mostly been rewarded for it, this time with continued relevance, support from Republican voters, and fealty from GOP elites.

Results from our new University of Massachusetts, Amherst national UMass Poll show that Republicans have mostly latched onto a narrative that downplays the severity of the Capitol insurrection, attributes blame everywhere but where it belongs, and endorses the Big Lie that stoked the pro-Trump mob that day.

While virtually all Democrats tell us that Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate, only about 2 in 10 Republicans say the same. (These numbers are nearly identical to what we found in our April 2021 national poll.) We asked those who said Biden’s victory was illegitimate to select all the reasons they believed so from a list of conspiracy theories floated by those pushing the Big Lie. Eighty-three percent say that “fraudulent ballots supporting Joe Biden were counted by election officials.” Eighty-one percent say “absentee ballots from deceased people” were counted. Seventy-six percent tell us that “non-citizens and other ineligible voters were allowed to vote for Joe Biden.” Sixty-nine percent say the victory was illegitimate because “some states changed election rules in ways they should not have.” And, 65 percent say “ballots supporting Donald Trump were destroyed by election officials.”

Sixty-two percent of Republicans believe Vice President Mike Pence should have used his role in counting the Electoral College votes to challenge Joe Biden’s victory.

The massive partisan perception chasm extends beyond the election itself to the Big Lie’s most shocking moment. It is as though Republicans and Democrats witnessed completely different events on Jan. 6, 2021. Democrats tend to characterize the events of Jan. 6, 2021 as a “riot” (75%) or “insurrection” (70%). Most Republicans describe those events as a “protest” (81%). Democrats tend to describe those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 as “insurrectionists,” “white nationalists,” “rioters,” a “mob,” and “terrorists,” while most Republicans call them “protesters.”

Seventy-five percent of Democrats blame Donald Trump for Jan. 6, while Republicans have been convinced that the Democratic Party (30%), the Capitol Police (24%) and Antifa (20%) bear more responsibility.

Nearly all Democrats believe elected officials were in danger during the siege, while the vast majority of Republicans say elected officials would not have been harmed had they come into contact with the mob that forced its way into the Capitol.

Eighty-four percent of Democrats believe it is important that we learn more about what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, while 75% of Republicans think it is time to move on.

Perhaps most astonishing, while almost all Democrats support law enforcement efforts to track down and prosecute those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, only 28% of Republicans support those efforts.

Nearly 8 in 10 Democrats tell us that Trump's efforts to claim he won the 2020 election threaten American democracy. Fewer than 2 in 10 Republicans say the same.

Trump's ability to convince the vast majority of his supporters that he actually won the 2020 election without producing a shred of credible evidence is remarkable. The success in minimizing the perceived seriousness of Jan. 6 and the related efforts to overturn an election may be even more notable. This assault on American democracy and the disinformation surrounding it has wrought a GOP electorate largely intolerant of those who run afoul of Trump.

Looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans in our survey say they would punish GOP candidates who voted to impeach Donald Trump or establish a commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6. They say they would be more likely to vote for Republicans who questioned the legitimacy of Biden's victory and less likely to vote for candidates who concede that Biden was legitimately elected.

Despite Trump being limited to one more term as president and being a two-time popular vote loser, the majority of the Republican electorate seems to favor him being the GOP standard bearer in 2024. Fifty-five percent list him as their first choice and 3 out of 4 have him in their top three. (Second place is held by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.) Our results show a Republican Party still very much in the grip of Donald Trump and his preferred version of “reality.”

Alexander Theodoridis is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and associate director of the UMass Poll. Before pursuing graduate studies at the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of California, Berkeley, he helped Larry J. Sabato launch the Center for Politics and served as its first chief of staff. He is a proud graduate of the University of Virginia. He tweets @AGTheodoridis.

Lane Cuthbert is a PhD student in political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Research Fellow for the UMass Poll. He studies political behavior, public opinion, and partisan polarization. He tweets @LaneGCuthbert 

Donald Snyder is a PhD student in political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Research Fellow for the UMass Poll. His research hinges on developing interventions that reduce harmful attitudes, biases, and behaviors associated with toxic partisanship. He tweets @DonaldESnyder3