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Attitudes on Jan. 6 Capitol attack settle in along familiar partisan lines

The percentage of Americans who say that it was an act of terrorism has declined since January, according to the latest NBC News poll.
Image: Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans are concerned about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, believe it was an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and think it was an act of terrorism, according to new results from the latest NBC News poll.

But attitudes about the attack are deeply divided along partisan and demographic lines. And the percentage of Americans who say that it was an act of terrorism has declined since January.

Overall, 59 percent say that they are concerned about the attack and its implications for the country (47 percent say they’re very concerned and an additional 12 percent say they’re concerned). Forty percent say they are either just somewhat concerned (14 percent) or not concerned at all (26 percent).

The divides over the issue are clear: Majorities of Democrats, independents, those living in cities and suburbs, Blacks, Hispanics and women all say they are concerned about the Jan. 6 attack. But the majorities of Republicans and those living in rural areas say they are not. Men and whites are about split.

“In normal times, when you have an event like this, the number would be higher. But 59 percent may be the new 80 percent. If you can get to that number, it speaks to getting a pretty broad majority,” Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates said about the severe partisan split.

“People are concerned about what happened and feel this is a serious threat to the country," Horwitt said, adding that "we are not having the conversations outside of our silos.“

Horwitt conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

An equal 59 percent believes the Jan. 6 attack was an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, with 38 percent disagreeing. But there’s less consensus on other potential implications of Jan. 6. Forty-six percent of adults say the attack has been exaggerated to discredit former President Trump and his supporters, while 50 percent do not agree. And 52 percent believe it was an act of terrorism, compared with 47 percent who do not— a decline from January, when 57 percent said it was an act of terrorism versus 40 percent who disagreed.

It's unclear whether that decline is attributable solely to Americans reverting to their partisan corners on the events, given a higher margin-of-error and sample size on the question when asked in January. But the August split of 52 percent believing Jan. 6 was act of terror compared to 47 percent disagreeing is almost identical to the popular vote split in the 2020 presidential election.

There’s a similar demographic divide on the implications of Jan. 6, too.

Majorities of Democrats (81 percent) and independents (55 percent) say the attack was an act of terrorism, compared to just 23 percent of Republicans. Majorities of Hispanics, Blacks, suburban, urban and college-educated adults all agree it was an act of terrorism, while majorities of whites, rural adults and those without a college education disagree.

One other factor that appears to have a significant correlation in how someone views the attack is media consumption. Majorities of adults who consume news either through cable news outlets like MSNBC or CNN, social media, newspapers, broadcast television or radio news all believe the attack was an attempt to overturn the 2020 election and an act of terrorism. But majorities of those who follow media outlets like Fox News or One America News say they disagree and instead believe the attack has been exaggerated to discredit Trump and his supporters.

Another telling trend is how adults in both parties view Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy. — one of the two Republicans who bucked GOP leadership to join Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Jan. 6 committee who said the former president was partially responsible for the attack. Twenty-one percent of adults view her positively, with 29 percent viewing her negatively. But Democrats view her positively by a margin of 19 percent (35 percent to 16 percent), while Republicans view her negatively by a margin of 39 percent (8 percent to 47 percent).

“The challenge that Republicans have is that by speaking up, you end up with numbers like this,” Horwitt said.

The attack will continue to remain a top issue for Congress. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is heading the House committee investigating the riot, announced on Monday that his panel will seek phone records from "hundreds" of people for that day, declining to rule out those of Trump family members.

The NBC News poll was conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults — 600 of whom are cellphone-only respondents — and the overall margin of error in the poll is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. Of the 790 registered voters the poll measured, the margin of error is plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.