Texas Republicans’ views of January 6 align with views of the 2020 election and Donald Trump

Three years after rioters violently overran the U.S. Capitol and disrupted the counting of electoral college votes to ratify Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the deep divisions and decay in institutional trust that fueled the riot remain starkly apparent in Texas public opinion.

As recently as the October 2023 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll, 54% of Texas voters agreed that “Protesters who entered the United States Capitol January 6th, 2021 were attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election," while 36% disagreed and 10% didn’t know. The majority of those who agreed was made up predominantly of Democrats, 89% of whom agreed with the view that protesters intended to undo the election.

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categoryTotal
Strongly agree38%
Somewhat agree16%
Somewhat disagree11%
Strongly disagree25%
Don't know/No opinion10%

But the belief that the protesters who forced their way into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of the electoral college vote while marauding through the building were not trying to overturn the election is nearly orthodoxy among Republican voters (who are likely influenced by the same position being expressed by most Republican elites). The majority of Republicans, 63%, disagreed with the statement offered in the poll, while only a quarter (25%) agreed and 12% didn’t know. The attitudes of both Democrats and Republicans varied only slightly in four iterations of the same question between February 2022 and October 2023.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Strongly agree73%39%11%
Somewhat agree16%14%14%
Somewhat disagree3%8%19%
Strongly disagree2%23%44%
Don't know/No opinion6%16%12%

The divide among partisans in their views of the nature of the January 6 riot in the Capitol align with a similar schism in Texans’ views of the legitimacy of the results of the 2020 election, which have also been remarkably consistent over the course of the Biden presidency. Overall, across 10 polls conducted between February 2022 and December 2023, a bare majority of Texas voters, between 52% and 57%, said they believed that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.

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YesNoNot sure
Feb. 202253%36%11%
June 202254%35%11%
Aug. 202252%36%12%
Oct. 202253%35%12%
Dec. 202257%32%11%
Feb. 202356%35%9%
Apr. 202356%34%10%
Aug. 202356%35%9%
Oct. 202354%35%12%
Dec. 202352%33%15%

Here, too, partisanship strongly defines Texans’ views, with broad consensus prevailing among Democrats, and Republicans more divided but still predominantly skeptical of the legitimacy of the 2020 election result. No fewer than 90% of Democrats expressed their belief in the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, while no fewer than 61% of Republicans have said that Biden did not win legitimately. Add this to the 11% to 18% who said that they were unsure over that time period, and nearly three-quarters of Republican voters have and continue to hold the view that Biden did not legitimately win the election — even on the precipice of the next.

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YesNoNot sure
Feb. 202222%67%11%
June 202220%66%14%
Aug. 202220%66%14%
Oct. 202220%64%16%
Dec. 202224%61%16%
Feb. 202317%69%14%
Apr. 202322%64%14%
Aug. 202321%69%11%
Oct. 202321%63%17%
Dec. 202319%62%18%

Donald Trump is both the root of these divisions and, as the frontrunner in the presidential nominating contest, a beneficiary of them. At no point during his tumultuous and unprecedented presidency – not during his two impeachments, multiple scandals and investigations, his often bizarre mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic – did his approval ratings among Texas Republicans dip below 78%. In October 2020, shortly before he won Texas’ electoral votes by just under six percentage points but lost the national election to Biden, 90% of Texas Republicans approved of the job he was doing while only 8% disapproved.

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 201781%10%8%
June 201780%13%7%
October 201778%15%7%
February 201883%11%5%
June 201887%7%6%
October 201888%7%4%
February 201988%8%5%
June 201988%8%5%
October 201988%8%5%
February 202087%9%4%
April 202090%7%3%
June 202086%8%6%
October 202090%8%2%

In the aftermath of losing the election and his well-documented, unsuccessful efforts to reverse the results, Trump has retained the support of Texas Republicans – and is their clear choice to face Biden again in 2024. His favorability ratings have remained consistent since he left Washington D.C., though slightly lower than his presidential job approval ratings among Republicans. This is likely less an indication of a serious decline in Trump’s stature than of how Trump’s abrasive style and personality meshes with his political posture, and Republicans’ view of Trump as a strong leadership figure. His likeability was never his strongest asset: even after vanquishing his primary opponents in 2020, his favorability ratings among Texas Republicans was a positive but mediocre 53% favorable, /27% unfavorable.

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categoryFavorableUnfavorableNeither/Don't know
Nov. 201554%31%12%
Feb. 201647%41%10%
June 201653%32%13%
Oct. 201660%30%10%
Feb. 201781%12%6%
Oct. 202085%12%4%
Feb. 202185%9%7%
June 202186%8%5%
Oct. 202182%12%6%
Feb. 202280%13%7%
Apr. 202279%10%10%
June 202276%12%11%
Aug. 202276%14%9%
Oct. 202282%9%9%
Dec. 202275%17%9%
Feb. 202379%12%10%
Apr. 202378%16%6%
June 202376%16%8%
Aug. 202379%15%7%
Dec. 202380%13%8%
Feb. 202483%12%5%

Facing state and federal criminal prosecutions related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, Trump faces no serious challenge so far in his efforts to win Texas’ primary votes. Asked in December if they intended to vote in one of the state’s partisan primaries, nearly two-thirds of potential Republican primary voters, 65%, said that they would be supporting Trump, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis trailing far, far behind at 12%.

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categoryTotal
Donald Trump65%
Ron DeSantis12%
Nikki Haley9%
Vivek Ramaswamy4%
Chris Christie2%
Doug Burgum1%
Someone else0%
No one/None of them1%
Anyone/Any of them1%
Don't know/No opinion6%

While it remains unknown whether or how much Trump would be hurt electorally by a conviction in any of the several criminal trials currently underway, there’s little evidence his legal problems are currently hurting his standing in a significant way. Asked about the seriousness of four of the major criminal inquiries into Trump, no fewer than 70% of Texas Republicans said that these charges are mostly based on politics. (This is not for lack of awareness: In December, 88% of Republicans said they had heard “a lot” (62%) or “some” (26%) about Trump’s legal problems.)

Setting aside the likelihood of which charges have the highest probability of resulting in a Trump conviction, the most serious charges against him remain those connected with efforts to negate the results of the 2020 election, which in any reasonable reading of the evidence at hand were intertwined with the January 6 protests and the assault on Congress. Trump and his allies have publicly attempted to recode the acts of both Trump and the violent protesters who marauded through the Capitol in two different, generally inconsistent ways: as either legitimate (and legal) political expression now being politically persecuted, or as a justified defense of democracy in response to the theft of the presidency. Both of these lines of arguments project onto his political opponents the anti-democratic impulses that informed Trump’s resistance to relinquishing power, a recurring trope in the arc of Trump’s political career.

Neither of these characterizations of the actions of both Trump and the violent protesters who laid siege to the Capitol logically survive the mountains of countervailing evidence that illustrate how the actions of the violent protesters at the Capitol aligned with Trump’s desire and effort to undermine the political process, or the lack of evidence to support them. The fact that Trump and the January 6 defendants are now subject to due process that provide those with the resources – Trump more than anyone else – with the procedural protections and opportunities to delay and perhaps even avoid accountability exposes both the weakness of their claims to political persecution and, again, especially in Trump’s case, the extent of the false projection of their own anti-democratic impulses.

But attitudes expressed in polling data in Texas (and nationally as recently as a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in December) illustrate that neither evidence nor a painstaking legal process designed to tilt toward protecting the rights of the accused have succeeded in changing the views of Republicans. The durability of these linked attitudes about January 6, the 2020 election, and Trump himself define both the on-the-ground politics of the 2024 campaign and the larger political identity of the Republican party. So while most will mark the January 6 anniversary as a disaster narrowly averted, many others will consider it unfinished business to be resolved by the return of Donald Trump to the White House.

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