Sacred Values, Willingness to Sacrifice, and Accountability for the Capitol Insurrection

Exploring How Deeply and Why Americans Hold Their January 6-Related Views
Policy Paper
Oct. 24, 2022

Despite the national unity that initially followed the January 6 Capitol insurrection, conversations surrounding the attack quickly became politicized, the subject of heated disinformation, and polarizing as divergent narratives about “what happened” entrenched.

Developing a shared narrative of and ensuring accountability for political violence is critical for its non-recurrence. In partnership with Over Zero and Protect Democracy, we conducted polling to understand how Americans are thinking about the events of January 6th, and identify alternative inroads for engaging cross-partisan Americans in conversations surrounding January 6 and related accountability efforts. This report explores Americans’ attitudes toward January 6 and related accountability efforts, specifically examining how deeply and why Americans hold their views on accountability for the Capitol attack. In sum, Americans hold strong and divergent positions about accountability for January 6, and a striking proportion claimed they would be willing to sacrifice for their views to take effect.

Engaging a broad segment of Americans in conversations about January 6 is critical for developing the shared narrative needed to prevent further political violence. This is a particularly urgent task as the Select Committee continues to expose the truth about the insurrection and those responsible. To explore alternative ways of communicating around the attack, we sought to identify whether January 6 and related accountability efforts have been sacralized—or held as “sacred values”—by Americans. Research shows that once an issue has been sacralized, we need to communicate around it differently.

Over 60 percent of respondents sacralized stances related to accountability or perceived lack of responsibility for January 6.

Our findings provide starting points for engaging segments of Americans that sacralize stances on accountability for January 6—audiences with potentially the strongest views on these issues. Not all communications efforts will seek to engage these groups. Even so, understanding whether, why, and among whom January 6 stances are sacralized will benefit stakeholders’ contextual awareness and position them to better prepare for any blowback that their communications may have among Americans.