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Poll: Most Republicans believe Trump bears no responsibility for Capitol attacks

A new poll finds a nation united on opposing the Capitol attacks but divided on who is to blame.

A mass of people cover the Capitol steps and the spaces between its columns; many have on red MAGA hats; still more wave blue flags bearing Trump’s name in white.
Flags fly as supporters of President Donald Trump occupy the steps of the US Capitol.
Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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 (48 percent) say Republican lawmakers didn’t go far enough in supporting the president’s efforts to overturn the election results, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll, which surveyed 1,002 US adults from January 10 to 13, paints a striking picture: It finds a national consensus on the impropriety of what transpired at the Capitol but also reinforces familiar divisions on who is to blame for the episode.

The poll found that almost 9 in 10 Americans oppose the riot at the Capitol, with 8 in 10 saying they “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 that 56 percent of Americans believe Congress should remove Trump from the presidency and prevent him from holding office in the future. But among Republicans, 85 percent oppose such a course of action.

The reason for that appears to be straightforward: According to the survey results, most Republicans don’t think he did anything wrong.

While 66 percent of Americans believe Trump acted irresponsibly in his statements and actions since the November 3 election, 65 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning survey participants think he acted responsibly.

And while 57 percent of Americans believe Trump bears a “great deal” or “good amount” of responsibility for the violent attack, 22 percent of Republicans say Trump bears “just some” responsibility — and another 56 percent say he bears none at all.

A large percentage of Republicans also feel GOP leaders should have done more to back Trump’s bid to overturn the election results. While 52 percent of Americans believe GOP leaders went too far in supporting the president’s false claims about voter fraud, 48 percent of Republicans said they did not go far enough.

A similar divide can be seen in the poll’s results as to whether Trump should be held legally liable for the attack. Most Americans think he should face criminal charges for his role; only 1 in 8 Republicans agree.

These findings of Republicans as reluctant to assign Trump any blame has been seen in other surveys. As Vox’s Sean Collins wrote in a January 10 analysis of polling conducted immediately after the Capitol Hill attack, a considerable share 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.

Trump’s support has dropped sharply, but hasn’t collapsed

There are, however, signs that a significant set of Republicans are skeptical Trump is the right leader for their party going forward. According to the Washington Post-ABC News poll, fewer than six in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that “party leaders should follow Trump’s lead in the future,” while 35 percent say they should move away from him — “a sentiment that has roughly doubled from 18 percent in 2018.”

As FiveThirtyEight’s approval-rating tracker shows, Trump’s support had one of the biggest drops of his presidency after the attack. His approval rating has since reached the lowest of his tenure, averaging about 38 percent approval and 58 percent disapproval. A shift in Republicans’ views accounts for much of the decline.

That said, lingering commitment to Trump among many conservatives will pose a significant dilemma 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 a Trump-fueled split in the party could damage their prospects as they prepare for midterm elections in 2022.

Some Republican lawmakers find Trump’s political style unpredictable, overly transgressive of political norms, and a distraction from the party’s policy agenda. This is reportedly part of the reason 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 midterms.

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.

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