Conspiracy and Rage

February 15, 2022

How North Carolina voters see the events of January 6th, 2021

Former President Donald Trump has now been the dominant figure in Republican politics for over half a decade. Since losing the 2020 election by a wide margin, he has spun and invoked multiple different, and often conflicting, false conspiracy theories to defend both his loss and the subsequent January 6th terrorist assault on the US Capitol. Through his firm grip on the national Republican Party, Trumpian messaging has been widely embraced by far-right activists, candidates and party operatives.

In the latest Carolina Forward polling, we asked North Carolina voters if they agreed or disagreed with key elements of conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election. Specifically, we asked whether respondents agreed with Trump’s frequent claim that the 2020 election was stolen through widespread election fraud – a theory known as the “Big Lie.”

The result? While the large majority of voters understand the Big Lie to be exactly that, Republican voters appear to have mostly embraced it as fact:

While Democrats rejected the Big Lie by a margin of 4 to 1 (81/10), and Independents rejected it by 2 to 1 (61/32), fully 75% of Republicans claim to believe it. In this belief, they are not only alone among other voters, but to a degree vastly removed from mainstream North Carolinians.

Respondents were also asked about what they believed took place at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th, 2021. Respondents were given several choices to describe those events, including:

  • “an attempted coup or insurrection”

  • “a riot that got out of control”

  • “a reasonable protest by opponents of election fraud”

  • “carried out by opponents of Donald Trump, including Antifa and/or undercover government agents”

Once again, Republican respondents were significantly more likely to select choices reflecting false or conspiratorial information. A mere 3% of Republicans agreed that the January 6th terrorist assault was a “coup or insurrection,” while close to half (44%) said they believed it was really carried out by various opponents of Donald Trump. Among the general population, a majority said they believed January 6th was an “insurrection” or “riot that got out of control”:

It is worth noting here that the combined number of overall respondents who chose the “reasonable protest” and “carried out by opponents” options is roughly equal to the number who chose “an attempted coup or insurrection.” Once again, Republican voters are plainly outside of mainstream opinion on the issue.

It is also interesting to note that the levels of agreement line up closely between those respondents who believed the 2020 election was stolen and those who picked “reasonable protest” or “carried out by opponents.” For example:

Believe the 2020 election was stolen vs. “reasonable protest” or “carried out by opponents”

  • Urban: 24% / 28%

  • Suburban: 36% / 34%

  • Rural: 47% / 41%

This strongly indicates that the same people - Republican respondents - are picking each option. Partisanship alone is thus driving opinion on the issue.

Finally, respondents were asked who they felt was most responsible for the events that took place on January 6th, 2021. Nearly half (47%) of Republicans said “Democratic leaders” – more than said Donald Trump (4%) or even the individuals involved (35%).

There is plainly no consensus on this question. Democrats widely believe Donald Trump personally to be responsible, while about half of Republicans blame Democratic leaders, and Independents are mostly split between Donald Trump and the individuals involved.

The Truth Matters

The definition of “terrorism” is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. This is exactly what those involved in the January 6th terrorist assault were doing - attempting to stop the counting of votes from a duly conducted American election.

The assault on the United States Capitol building on January 6th, 2021 was a terrorist attack by far-right extremists. It was closely planned in advance by extremist anti-government and right-wing organizations, in close cooperation with not just Republican Party politicians, but Donald Trump’s own staff. Volumes of direct evidence support this - and, in fact, may actually result in consequences for some of those responsible for the insurrection, like Madison Cawthorn.

Although no amount of fact checking can dissuade hardcore true believers, it is important to state plainly that there is no truth to the myth of a “stolen election.” It is false, and has been proven false too many times to count.

Yet as North Carolina’s Republican base marinates in a media echo chamber of conspiracy and myth, aspiring Republican politicians are eager to cater to them. GOP Senate hopeful Tedd Budd says he believes those who stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to murder sitting members of Congress were “freedom-loving Americans.” The Republican National Committee passed a resolution declaring the attack “legitimate political discourse.”

Ultimately, the question of accountability, and whether the truth matters, will be up to the voters. They will have a chance to weigh in this November.

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