A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll finds that most Americans (52%) already believe that the Department of Justice should prosecute former President Donald Trump for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election — a number that could grow if Tuesday’s bombshell Jan. 6 testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson breaks through in the days and weeks ahead.
The survey of 1,630 U.S. adults was conducted from June 24 to 27 — immediately after last Thursday’s hearing but before Tuesday’s session, which has proved to be the most dramatic to date.
While Attorney General Merrick Garland has not indicated whether he plans to pursue criminal charges against the former president, the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection has been building consensus for such an unprecedented move — even though many Americans have yet to absorb the committee's most incriminating findings about Trump’s push to remain in power, some of which emerged during the surprise hearing Tuesday.
Among other things, Hutchinson, a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified under oath that Trump knew his supporters were armed before directing them to the Capitol on Jan. 6; that he dismissed safety concerns by saying “they’re not here to hurt me”; that he wrestled the Secret Service for control of his car so he could go to the Capitol himself; that he beat the table and threw dishes, splattering ketchup on the wall, after former Attorney General William Barr publicly shot down his false allegations of a stolen election; that top national security officials repeatedly warned the White House about the potential for violence that day; that Meadows told Hutchinson “things might get real, real bad on January 6”; and that both Meadows and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani subsequently expressed interest in presidential pardons.
These explosive revelations play directly into the methodical case against Trump that the Jan. 6 committee has been constructing for weeks: that there was a “seditious conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 election and that the former president was at the center of it.
According to the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, a majority of Americans already say they believe two key elements of the committee’s narrative: that Trump “was told the Justice Department had investigated his claims of voting irregularities and found no evidence of widespread fraud” (53%), and that Trump “pressured Vice President Mike Pence to reject the 2020 Electoral College results and overturn the election” anyway (52%). The committee has argued that these findings suggest criminal intent.
Last week’s hearings, meanwhile, focused on Trump’s alleged pressure campaign against state officials and the Justice Department itself. Despite substantial evidence and sworn testimony, fewer Americans currently say they believe the following findings: that Trump “pressured swing state officials to change the 2020 Electoral College results by replacing Biden electors with Trump electors” (41%); that Trump “pressured the U.S. Department of Justice to declare that the 2020 election was ‘illegal’ and ‘corrupt’” (49%); and that Trump “tried to install a new attorney general who would help him overturn the 2020 election after the sitting attorney general refused” (41%).
But what’s striking is that a much smaller share of Americans — just 27%, 21% and 26%, respectively — say they don’t believe such claims. In each case, relatively large numbers — 32%, 31% and 34% — say they’re “not sure” what to believe.
When combined, these results imply that roughly 70% to 80% of Americans either already believe or remain open to believing that Trump did things after the 2020 election that could ultimately trigger prosecution.
To be clear, direct questions about whether Trump technically broke the law tend to follow a more predictable partisan pattern. A full 90% of Biden voters, for instance, say that Trump committed a crime by trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election; only 10% of Trump voters say the same. Nearly as many Biden voters (89%) believe there was a “conspiracy” to overturn the election; just 18% of Trump agree.
Yet the fact that only about a quarter of Americans actually disbelieve that Trump engaged in a series of unprecedented breaches to prolong his presidency — while the rest are at least open to believing that he did — underscores both the challenges and opportunities ahead for the committee.
According to the poll, much of the uncertainty surrounding what the former president did or didn’t do stems from a lack of exposure and awareness. Only half of Americans (50%) report watching the hearings live or catching news coverage later, roughly the same percentage that paid attention to the committee’s first prime-time hearing earlier this month. And more Biden voters (78%) continue to watch either live or later than Trump voters (35%).
As a result, public opinion on questions such as whether Trump “pressured the U.S. Department of Justice to declare that the 2020 election was ‘illegal’ and ‘corrupt’ — a claim that was first reported last year and corroborated by senior department officials during last Thursday’s hearing — still varies wildly by viewing habits. Clear majorities of MSNBC viewers (82%), CNN viewers (61%) and live-hearing viewers (78%) say they believe it; sizable numbers of Fox News viewers (30%) and Americans who don’t watch cable news (40%) or the hearings (45%) say they’re not sure.
Relatedly, a separate question found that more Americans have heard about the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard verdict (74%) and President Biden falling off his bicycle (73%) than have heard about key revelations from the Jan. 6 hearings: that “at least six Republican members of Congress requested pardons from the Trump White House after participating in efforts to overturn the 2020 election” (60%); that in a January 2021 phone call, President Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to overturn the state’s presidential election result” (70%); or that “after the 2020 election, Former Attorney General Bill Barr told President Trump his stolen election claims were ‘bulls***’” (66%).
Yet even so, the number of people who have heard about the Jan. 6 stories and say they’re untrue is smaller (between 10% and 14%) than the number who say the stories are true (between 32% and 36%) or they’re not sure (between 17% and 20%).
For the most part, the Jan. 6 committee has convinced its most persuadable audience — those on the left — that Trump deserves to be prosecuted. This helps explain why there has been a slight but statistically meaningful jump over the last two weeks, from 45% to 49%, in the proportion of Americans who believe the Jan. 6 attack was part of a conspiracy to overturn the election. It also explains why the share of Americans who think the committee is reporting the truth has increased 4 points as well, from 33% to 37%.
Conversely, few pro-Trump partisans will ever change their minds.
But as the poll shows, the committee doesn’t need to flip Trump’s most ardent fans to continue building consensus for criminal charges. Instead, it somehow needs to reach the surprisingly large number of Americans who continue to say they’re not sure what Trump did or didn’t do — many of whom aren’t even following the hearings closely.
That’s no simple task. The question now is whether Hutchinson’s blockbuster testimony Tuesday will make it any easier.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,630 U.S. adults interviewed online from June 24 to 27, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.9%.