Politics

CBS News poll: Half say Trump tried to stay in office through illegal means, should be charged with crimes

Most Americans continue to feel U.S. democracy is threatened, and the Jan. 6 hearings offer a window into their different reasons why. 

From what they’ve seen of the hearings thus far, half the country thinks former President Donald Trump planned to remain in office through unconstitutional and illegal activities. Half think that he should, in turn, be charged with crimes, and that the attack on the Capitol was an “insurrection.”

Meanwhile, though, most Republicans feel Trump had no such plans, and a big, unmoved majority of them still say President Joe Biden didn’t legitimately win. Half of Republicans still call that day’s events “patriotism,” a view that’s floated around the same mark since that day. 

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The hearings haven’t changed how people describe the day’s events, compared to the way they did immediately afterward or a year later. That may be in part due to locked-in partisanship, and (relatedly) that not everyone is paying a lot of attention, including a big partisan difference in following it. Most Democrats are paying at least some attention, but most Republicans are not. 

So, we still see Democrats and many independents calling the day’s events an “insurrection,” and an attempted overthrow of the government. 

But there is a divide among Republicans, with half of them calling it “defending freedom” or “patriotism.” The Republicans who say Biden didn’t win are especially likely to use those terms, which once again underscores the connection between that belief and opinions on the attack.

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So what comes next?

The implications for democracy, more generally, stem from views of what should happen now. Eight in 10 Democrats and 44% of independents want to see Trump charged, saying that would strengthen democracy. Three in four Republicans say clearing Trump of wrongdoing would actually strengthen democracy. 

Confidence in another U.S. institution, the election process, isn’t faring well in the current context either. Amid testimony and discussion of pressure put on elections and officials in the wake of 2020, as well as recent primaries elevating candidates who don’t accept the validity of the 2020 election results, most Americans think it at least somewhat likely that in the future, elections officials will refuse to certify a result for political reasons.

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This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,265 U.S. adult residents interviewed between June 22-24, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.6 points. 

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