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How have the views of American voters changed since the insurrection?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Saturday will mark three years since the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Whose house?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Our house.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Our house.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Our house. Whose house? Our house.

MARTÍNEZ: This year, we'll see the first presidential election since that day and all that's unfolded with former President Donald Trump seeking the White House one more time. So three years later, what has the effect been on our politics? To try and answer that, we bring in NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, so do we know how people view the attack on the Capitol now? Now, three years later, I mean, have views changed?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah, I mean, it's one of those moments, you know, that many of us witnessed, saw on TV, didn't think it was really possible to have hugely divergent views. But maybe that was naive, given our politics and how divisive everything seems to be. You know, for Democrats, democracy has risen to the top of their most pressing concerns in these past three years because that day did fundamentally represent an attack on the process of the peaceful transfer of power.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. It was one of those I-remember-where-I-was moments. I mean, I was just sitting in the studio watching it unfold. Now, many Republicans, though, I would imagine, Domenico, see this very, very differently. And we got some new data on that this week.

MONTANARO: Yeah, there was a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll out that found fewer Republicans now than in 2021 would describe the protesters who were there that day as mostly violent. Just 18% of Republicans say that now, compared to 26% in 2021, which, you know, was still pretty low, you know, compared to independents and Democrats. Half of independents and three-quarters of Democrats said that those who were there that day were mostly violent as compared to mostly peaceful. And fewer Republicans now say that Trump bears responsibility for the attack compared with 2021, which is pretty striking.

MARTÍNEZ: So what do you think that says?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, after three years of a pitched Trump public relations battle, he's clearly convinced his base, you know, that he's not responsible for what happened that day and that it's been blown out of proportion. He's done it with the help of a conservative media echo chamber and a lot of Republican leaders on a whole host of things. I mean, that's why you see people like House Speaker Mike Johnson asking for all the video from January 6 to be released, which is only feeding conspiracy theories. And it's why you have Republican presidential candidates who are trying to beat Trump for the job making excuses about his conduct. You know, beyond that, they've all rallied around him when it comes to his multiple criminal indictments. And it just all leads to a larger picture of an aggrieved and besieged figurehead, which Trump, of course, has turned into political fuel from the beginning of his political rise.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, Domenico, now that it's 2024, I can actually hear the countdown clock to the election. I mean, it feels tangible, like it's right in front of me. And Republican voters are going to cast their first ballots in less than two weeks in Iowa. Now, if they're all just kind of lining up and rallying around Donald Trump, I mean, what could it mean for the upcoming election?

MONTANARO: I mean, it's all really helped make Trump the man to beat in this Republican primary. I mean, he's 20, 30 points ahead in most polls. And, you know, what people should understand is that partisan views only harden in a presidential election year. You know, people might forget Hillary Clinton, when she was Obama's secretary of state, had favorability ratings in the 60s. Certainly, that was not the case when it was clear she would become the Democratic nominee. People really retreat to their corners. Candidates' policy positions become sort of caricatures, you know, and views of Trump certainly haven't changed much. And if he loses in 2024, he'd probably say again that the election was stolen - certainly laying the groundwork for that. Yet Trump has been able to insulate himself with his base because Biden is unpopular, people eyeing third parties. Trump has a realistic chance of not only being the nominee but winning again, which many people probably didn't think was possible after January 6.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.