House Democrats’ plan for a prime-time Jan. 6 committee hearing Thursday to roll out their evidence of a conspiracy is running into a dwindling number of Americans who blame former President Donald Trump for the riot at the Capitol seeking to disrupt the 2020 election vote count.
The high-stakes political event also is opening during a summer of discontent in the U.S., competing for the attention of voters who are more concerned about soaring inflation and gasoline prices, a shortage of baby formula, an abundance of crime, the persistent COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Democrats are hoping the hearings into the 2021 pro-Trump riot will fire up their base in an otherwise bleak midterm election year for the party. But Republican pollster Paul Shumaker of North Carolina said there’s a high risk of backlash for Democrats, given voters’ worries about the economy and national security.
“I actually think that it has a potential to work against them,” Mr. Shumaker said of the Democrats. “The unaffiliated voters that [Democrats] need to win in states like North Carolina, they’re concerned about the economy, they’re concerned about the state of world affairs, and they’re going to see this [hearing] as continuing to play politics and not taking care of problems.”
He also said, tongue in cheek, that $5-per-gallon gasoline might result in higher ratings for the hearing.
“Given the price of gas, Democrats know that there will be more people staying at home who will be more likely to watch this than not,” Mr. Shumaker said.
Lawmakers on the special Jan. 6 committee investigating the riot say they will connect the dots for viewers about the Trump administration officials and allies who incited the attack, in which five people died and more than 800 were arrested. Democrats say they will tell a story of the day that a defeated, lame-duck president and his supporters tried to overturn an election and nearly overthrew the government.
The hearing set for 8 p.m. Thursday will be televised by at least two broadcast networks — CBS and ABC. Other networks have yet to announce their plans.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat and a member of the committee, said Monday that the panel has a “mountain of evidence” that the Jan. 6, 2021, riot was the result of “concerted planning and premeditated activity.”
“You don’t almost knock over the U.S. government by accident,” Mr. Raskin said at an event hosted by The Washington Post.
Other hearings will offer video footage of the 1,000 interviews that lawmakers have conducted privately and will draw testimony from Trump administration officials. The information will include video interviews of Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who served as a White House adviser.
Regardless of whether the committee produces any bombshells, voters’ attitudes about the riot are shifting.
An NBC News poll released on Monday showed a drop in the past year among Americans who blame Mr. Trump for the riot. The survey found that 45% of Americans said Mr. Trump is “solely” or “mainly” responsible for the riot, compared with 52% who said the same last year.
In the poll of 1,000 adults, 55% said the former president is only somewhat or not really responsible for the event.
A survey by the Pew Research Center in January showed similar results. Immediately after the riot, Pew found that 52% of Americans said Mr. Trump bore a lot of responsibility for the violence and destruction committed by some of his supporters. A year later, that number had dropped to 43%.
Aside from declining interest in holding Mr. Trump culpable, many voters have simply moved on during the often turbulent 17 months since the riot, said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University.
“There’s just a lot going on, and there are a lot of uncertainties with the economy — gas prices, inflation,” Mr. Reeher said. “The other big thing … is the question of whether we’re going to go into a recession, how deep that recession will be, whether we may end up in a situation of ‘stagflation.’ Those are all really big things. And I think that will have the effect of dampening the intensity of the interest on this [hearing].”
Mr. Shumaker, the pollster, said inflation and international affairs “are the problems for the Democrats.”
“The state of the world and the state of the economy — those are the two overriding issues here,” he said. “Inflation is dominating everything, for almost two out of five voters.”
He said there is a big “intensity gap” this year, with Republican voters more motivated than Democrats. But he questions whether a series of televised hearings with uncertain results will help Democrats and the White House.
“The risk [for Democratic lawmakers] is that if they’re not focused on problem-solving, that varying intensity of their base will not fix their political problem overall,” Mr. Shumaker said.
Mr. Reeher contrasted the Jan. 6 committee with the Watergate hearings in 1974, which scrutinized the actions of President Nixon, who was still in office.
“There was a large swath of the population that didn’t really understand what had happened and wanted to learn more,” he said. “The more they learned, the more they turned against the president.”
He said of this week’s hearing, “I just can’t see that there’s going to be a series of revelations that’s going to change people’s minds. Most people have their minds made up on this.”