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Support for prosecuting Capitol rioters wavering among Republicans

A growing number of Republicans do not support prosecuting the Capitol rioters, according to a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center. Since March of this year, Republican support for investigating the individuals who committed the attack on the Capitol has decreased and they're now concerned the rioters' punishments are too harsh.

On Jan. 6, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win in the presidential election. Many of the people present in Washington that day believed the widely debunked theory that the 2020 election was stolen and that Trump was the rightful winner. People used makeshift weapons to break windows and fight Capitol police to gain entry to the Capitol building, leading to the death of one Capitol police officer and one rioter. 

The Pew Research Center surveyed over 10,000 U.S. adults about their views of the events on Jan. 6 and the resulting arrests of rioters and the investigations into the attack. A similar survey conducted in March found 87% of respondents believed it was somewhat or very important that “federal law enforcement find and prosecute U.S. Capitol rioters.” Now months later, total support has dropped to 78% with Republicans driving the decrease.

Seventy-nine percent of Republicans believed it was an important cause in March, but now 57% still believe as much. Democrats on the other hand show no real change in overall numbers of support, with 95% believing it was important to prosecute rioters in both March and September. There was a slight increase in the number of Democrats who believe it is somewhat important rather than very important, but still, 80% believe prosecuting rioters is very important.

While Republicans increasingly believe that it is less important to prosecute rioters, over a quarter believe those who have been arrested face overly severe punishments. But 48% percent of Americans believe the punishments are not severe enough, while 29% think the punishments have been proper and 20% see them as too severe.

Among Republicans, 38% see the punishments as too severe and 39% see them as about right. A slim 19% of Republicans believe that the punishments for Capitol rioters have not been severe enough, while Democrats overwhelmingly (71%) believe the same. 

Sympathy for the rioters who stormed the Capitol has been a stance right-wing Republican lawmakers have taken. In July, several Republican Representatives including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louie Gohmert of Texas accused prosecutors of treating arrested rioters unfairly.

Pew found Americans who believe Trump won the 2020 election are more likely to see punishments for Jan. 6 rioters as too severe.

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Attention regarding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has also sparked a clear divide among liberals and conservatives in America. Over half of Republicans believe that the events at the Capitol and the resulting investigations have received too much attention whereas over half of Democrats believe that it is not receiving enough attention. Republicans who identify as conservatives overwhelmingly believe that the events on Jan. 6 have garnered too much attention (65%). However, Democrats who identify as liberals believe in near equal numbers (60%) that the events have had too little attention.

As public opinion over the Jan. 6 riot grows more partisan, the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the events has begun issuing subpoenas of individuals close to Trump during his final days in office. The survey showed that among Republicans, a majority believe the investigation will not be fair or reasonable. A sizable number of Democrats believe that the committee will be somewhat fair conducting the investigation.

Since the attack on the Capitol, hundreds of people have been charged for their involvement, ranging from trespassing, assault of an officer to conspiracy. 

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Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

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