The January 6 committee reaches its audience. Is it sufficient?

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On Tuesday evening, Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.) appeared on Fox News. Host Bret Baier asked the senator if he watched hearings held by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill and, if so, if he learned anything new from them.

“I didn’t watch the January 6 hearings,” Scott said. “I was actually in the Senate when it happened. So I don’t need to be told what really happened. He called the hearings a “made for television” event aimed more at “entertaining the public’s attention and less at seeking the truth”.

One of two things happening here. Either Scott didn’t watch the ratings and make assumptions about what they show without having seen them, or he watched the ratings and hopes to characterize them negatively for Fox News audiences. Either way, his response was representative: a Republican who paid no attention to it but nevertheless did not claim to see the committee’s work as informative.

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On Wednesday, Quinnipiac University released a poll measuring Americans’ views on the Capitol riot and the House investigation. He revealed that about half of Republicans said they did not pay close attention to information about committee work – but neither did a quarter of Democrats.

The pollsters then overlaid these answers on a number of related polling questions. So, for example, respondents were asked if they had learned anything new during the hearings. Most said they had not. Of those who paid very high attention to ratings, however, two-thirds said they did. Those who don’t pay attention? Almost everyone, like Scott, said no.

This, of course, is what you would expect! If you’re not careful, you won’t learn anything new.

But that is also the challenge facing the committee. Its aim is to broaden the public’s understanding of what happened both during the riot and in the preceding weeks. For that understanding to be expanded, however, it takes a listening audience. Those who watch learn more. But a lot of people aren’t watching.

Again, this is confused with partisanship. Republicans aren’t as likely to watch — often clearly a conscious choice. Republicans, like Scott, will often have a preconceived idea of ​​what the hearings aim to accomplish and therefore pay little attention to them. Democrats are swayed the other way: They want to watch shows that validate their assumptions about Trump’s wickedness. That’s what they’re doing — and they’re declaring the hearings a success.

Consider another question from Quinnipiac: Was Trump responsible for the riot? Most Americans say yes, thanks to an overwhelming majority of like-minded Democrats. Three-quarters of those who pay very close attention to ratings think he bears the blame – but is that because of what they saw or is it an opinion they brought to the table anyway first hearing? Two-thirds of those who pay no attention think he bears little blame, a view they by definition hold independent of the audience.

In a flurry of questions, the opinions of those watching or not watching the hearings align with the opinions of Democrats (who are more likely to watch) and Republicans (who are more likely not).

In other words, it is clear that the January 6 committee reaches a wide audience, but it is not clear that it influences the understanding of post-election efforts. And if he does not, his success is bound to be limited.

Consider a key question from the Quinnipiac poll, the one that is the focus of the committee’s attention. Americans are generally divided on whether the attack on the Capitol is likely to happen again in some form.

The committee was very pointed in arguing that the conditions underlying the riot still largely exist. He sees his mandate as helping to eliminate the possibility that a similar act of violence could occur, which he warns is entirely possible. But again, same distribution: even a quarter of those who say they are very attentive did not remove this message – if they understood it at all. If they are even very careful.

In that Tuesday interview, Baier also asked if Scott could support Donald Trump in 2024, given the riot investigation.

Scott – who, again, said he hadn’t paid attention to the hearings – replied in the affirmative.

“If President Trump is the nominee,” Scott said, “of course we support him.”

Again, putting Scott in line with the bulk of his party.


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