The Big Lie is Working
A majority of Americans are less than sure that Biden won the 2020 election.
As the caption indicates, the above graphic was taken from the reporting on a just-released poll by the Department of Political Science and Program in Legal Studies at the University of Massassachussets at Amherst on the 2020 election and the January 6 riots. Their analysis:
One year after thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to protest and disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, the results of a new national University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll released today show 71% of Republicans – and one-third of the nation – continue to believe that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, and that Republicans continue to blame Democrats, Antifa and the Capitol Police for the events of Jan. 6. They also oppose both the continuation of law enforcement efforts to prosecute the rioters and attempts to learn more about what happened that day.
The poll of 1,000 respondents found that only 58% of Americans believe that Biden’s electoral victory was legitimate, with more than a fifth (22%) saying that it was “definitely not legitimate,” numbers nearly identical to an April 2021 UMass Amherst Poll (59% / 24%). Only one-fifth of Republicans (21%) view Biden’s victory as legitimate.
“Given the continued questioning of Biden’s victory by prominent Republican elected officials, conservative media personalities and former President Trump, it is no surprise that 7 in 10 Republicans, conservatives and Trump voters view the results of the 2020 election with skepticism, if not outright disbelief,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “However, overall American opinion on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election has remained steady since April, as close to 6 in 10 Americans view Biden’s victory as legitimate.”
While the plurality view is that Biden won the election fairly and is therefore the legitimate President, the fact that only 46 percent are definite in that belief—and therefore a 54 percent majority are less than sure—is stunning to me. That a full 71 percent of Republicans believe otherwise isn’t that surprising at this juncture but that almost a third of self-described Independents are in that camp is. And that 18 percent of Democrats are less than sure is just . . . weird.
Other findings and analysis:
Republicans continue to defend the events of Jan. 6 and those who perpetrated the attacks on the capitol, with 80% describing the events as a “protest,” while the majority (55%) of all respondents of the poll use the term “riot.” While 62% of Republicans said the perpetrators were “protestors,” more than a quarter (26%) deemed the pro-Trump horde “patriots,” while similar numbers (27%) also said they were “Antifa.” Democrats, meanwhile, nearly equally described them as “insurrectionists,” “white nationalists” and “rioters” (68% each), a “mob” (67%) and “terrorists” (64%).
“Women and people of color are more likely to use negative words such as ‘insurrection’ and ‘riot’ to describe the events of January 6,” La Raja says. “Meanwhile older, wealthier, conservatives and whites are more likely to use the term ‘protest’ than other groups. Very few Trump voters view the events as anything worse than a protest.”
I have long since settled on “riot” as the best all-encompassing term to describe what I see as a multifaceted event. To me, “protest” is a fair description of the Stop the Steal rallies outside the Capitol but an absurd description of even the most benign activities that took place illegally inside the building.
“A large plurality of Americans – 44% – blame Donald Trump for the events of Jan. 6 compared to any other person or group,” [Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll] says. “Only 4% blame Joe Biden. Stunningly, almost one-in-three Republican voters blame the Democratic Party for the events of the day. On the flip side, just 8% of Democrats voters blame the Republican Party. They blame Trump by a wide margin, with 75% saying he is the cause of it all.”
That so many Republicans have bought into the Antifa nonsense remains baffling to me. That the overwhelming number of Democrats pinpoint the blame to Trump and not the larger party is encouraging if surprising. While I see Trump as obviously far and away the most responsible, enough prominent Republican leaders aided and abetted him in spreading the Big Lie ahead of the riots and continue covering for them after the fact that the party can’t escape some share of the blame.
“Perceptions of the events of Jan. 6 have remained strikingly stable over the past year, despite the dramatic and disturbing revelations of the January 6 Commission,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “This stability reveals the remarkable power of ideology and partisanship in shaping these perceptions, even in the face of contrary evidence. Significant majorities of Americans want prosecutions of participants in the events of Jan. 6 and want further investigation of what happened, but a substantial share do not. The commission’s work is seriously complicated by polarization over what happened that day, a problem intentionally abetted by politicians.”
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that information hasn’t changed perceptions much over the last eight months. We don’t know a whole lot more now than we did in April.
The one question in which the poll found nearly identical bipartisan response pertained to whether Congress and the vice president should hold the power to certify – and possibly nullify – presidential elections. Forty-four percent of Democrats and 43% of Republicans responded that the power should not rest with the vice president and Congress, while 23% of Republicans and 21% of Democrats said that it should.
“The events of Jan. 6 and the Trump administration’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election highlighted the potential dangers associated with the nation’s current process of certifying the presidential election, and a plurality of Americans oppose giving the U.S. Congress and the sitting vice president the power to certify and potentially nullify electoral results moving forward,” Nteta says. “Given the increased politicization of the process by which presidential electoral results are certified, it is not shocking that a plurality of Americans oppose giving this power to the Congress and sitting vice president.”
While this wouldn’t be surprising in a vacuum, it’s odd in context. How one can be angry that Pence didn’t help steal the election while simultaneously thinking it a bad idea to give the Vice President the power, I don’t understand. But, of course, none of this is rational.