In a dramatic ending on Thursday to the final scheduled public hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, the committee unanimously voted to subpoena former President Donald Trump. “We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion, and every American is entitled to those answers,” said committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney ahead of the vote.
The subpoena means that Trump has been ordered by the committee to provide relevant documents and testimony under oath as part of its investigation. Given the former president’s disdain for the committee, it’s unlikely Trump will willingly testify. Still, the decision to subpoena a former president was remarkable and capped off a hearing that resurfaced evidence of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack. And while today’s hearing might not have changed how people plan to vote, it was a reminder of the ugly reality of what could happen after they do.
While past congressional hearings have swayed public opinion, that largely hasn’t been the case for the Jan. 6 committee. Polling of Americans before, during and after the hearings this summer showed negligible movement in opinions on the attack and Trump’s role in it. In late June, a few weeks into the public hearings, a Monmouth University poll found that 65 percent of Americans considered the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol a riot, 50 percent called it an insurrection, and 34 percent said it was a legitimate protest. By the end of July, after the summer hearings had concluded, those numbers were virtually unchanged: 64 percent said Jan. 6 was a riot, 52 percent said it was an insurrection, and 35 percent said it was a legitimate protest.
The share of Americans who believe Trump is “directly responsible” for the attack hasn’t moved much either: Forty-two percent thought so in June, while 38 percent did in September, according to another set of Monmouth University polls. Given that roughly a third of Americans — including a majority of Republicans — still believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, it’s perhaps not shocking that congressional hearings have struggled to move the needle. It’s also true that voters have a lot of other things on their minds right now. Using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, the ongoing FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey has been tracking the issues Americans find most important for the country heading into the election, and while Americans consider “political extremism or polarization” one of the top issues, they have consistently ranked it behind inflation. And the Americans who identified partisan extremism as a top issue facing the country weren’t necessarily thinking about the Jan. 6 attacks.
But even if the hearing itself isn’t top of mind for voters, they will be impacted by the Jan. 6 attack and the events that preceded it. One such way is through the hundreds of changes to state election laws, many of which were passed with the stated motivation of securing elections and preventing fraud, inspired by Trump’s illegitimate claims after 2020. This fall, many voters across the country will be encountering new election laws that require them to show a photo I.D. when voting, register earlier than they used to or find a new place to return their ballot because their local drop box has been removed. Whether or not voters care about Jan. 6, it will affect them this November.
But perhaps the most direct influence of Jan. 6 and Trump’s campaign leading up to it are the hundreds of candidates on the ballot this fall who continue to repeat his allegations of a stolen election. As of Oct. 13 at 5 p.m. Eastern, 200 out of 552 Republican nominees for House, Senate, governor, state attorney general and secretary of state seats have fully denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis, and another 62 have raised doubts. The 200 includes individuals who actively supported Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results by signing on to be illegitimate “alternate” electors and even attending the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
If these candidates are elected, they’ll be in positions to meaningfully influence elections, whether as a state legislator passing voting laws or as a secretary of state tasked with administering and certifying elections. And if they aren’t elected, they could just take a page from Trump’s book and cry fraud. Many election deniers who lost their primaries did exactly that. And even a few who won did so, too. On a widespread scale, claiming fraud over an election loss could lead to more distrust in elections or, at worst, once again stoke violence.
Though the committee’s decision to subpoena Trump was extraordinary, it’s far from the kind of October surprise that swings elections. But the shockwaves from Jan. 6 — and from Trump’s baseless election fraud claims leading up to it — will continue to reverberate across the country, into November and beyond.