A sizable majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 57%, still say it’s at least somewhat important that federal law enforcement agencies find and prosecute those who broke into and rioted at the US Capitol — but that’s down from 79% in a March poll. Only about one-quarter now consider such prosecutions very important, down from half who felt that way in the spring.
By contrast, opinion among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents has remained largely stable and near-unanimous: 95% currently say prosecuting rioters is at least somewhat important, and 80% say that it’s very important. Overall, 78% of Americans still say it’s important.
The sizable drop in enthusiasm among Republicans for prosecuting the rioters comes after a months-long campaign by prominent right-wing figures to whitewash the insurrection.
About half of Americans, 48%, say that the criminal penalties faced by Capitol rioters haven’t been severe enough, with 20% calling them too severe and 29% saying they’re about right. But there are again striking partisan contours: A 71% majority of Democrats, but just 19% of Republicans, think the criminal penalties meted out should have been more severe.
There are also fault lines within the GOP, the survey finds. Republicans who acknowledged in a previous survey that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election are 25 percentage points likelier than those who falsely claimed Trump won to say prosecuting rioters is very important, and 29 points less likely to think rioters have been punished too severely. Roughly two-thirds of Republicans fall into the camp that believed Trump won.
But the sentences for these early cases aren’t necessarily representative of the full universe of defendants. Things are progressing slowly for the more serious cases involving assaults against police or conspiracies with extremist groups.
Despite ongoing public concern about the aftereffects of the riot, most Americans aren’t closely following the congressional investigation into January 6. Just 11% say they’ve heard or read a lot about the House committee investigating the riot, with 57% saying they’ve heard only a little, and another 31% that they’ve heard nothing at all.
They’re also unlikely to express much confidence in the committee, with only 11% saying they’re very confident that the investigation will be fair and reasonable, another third saying that they’re somewhat confident, and more than half expressing little or no confidence in the investigation.
The low marks for the committee are consistent with Americans’ dim view of Congress. But it also suggests that the GOP gamble to kill an independent commission is already paying off.
Pew surveyed 10,371 US adults on Sept. 13-19, using a nationally representative online panel. The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 10,371 respondents is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.