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By Patrick Healy and Lora Kelley
Mr. Healy is the deputy Opinion editor. Ms. Kelley is an editorial assistant in Opinion.
This article is based on a focus group we held with Democratic voters about the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and the health of American democracy. You can also read the article about our Republican voter focus group on the same issues here. Patrick Healy, the deputy Opinion editor, expands on the takeaways from the focus groups and the intent behind them here in the Opinion Today newsletter.
One year after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a Times Opinion focus group of Democratic voters found them frustrated that President Trump’s inner circle had not been held accountable for what happened that day — but also empathetic toward some of the rioters and their frustrations with “the system.”
You don’t hear much empathy between progressives and conservatives these days, but some of the nine Democrats were clearly angry about politics and power in America and felt that Republicans probably shared that anger as well. One focus group member said of Jan. 6, “I want future historians to remember that all of that happened because of the corrupt system that already existed.”
This transcript of the discussion among the nine Democrats (along with our separate focus group of eight Republicans) are part of a new series of Opinion focus groups exploring Americans’ views on issues facing the country. The Democrats largely agreed about what happened on Jan. 6 (as opposed to the Republican focus group members), but they disagreed about whether the attack was surprising — and whether they should have seen it coming. Several feared even worse violence around the 2024 election.
The most surprising thing to us was their shaky faith in the Democratic Party itself — and its ability to do anything either to stop Republicans from doing more violence or change the root problems with “the system.” Listening to both focus groups, you really understand that we live in a country that is at once so radical and so conservative, and that what unites the left and the right is a mistrust in people at the top. There was little enthusiasm among the Democrats for President Biden to run again in 2024 — and ditto for the Republicans and Mr. Trump.
As is customary in focus groups, our role as moderators was not to argue with or fact-check the speakers. Two veteran focus group moderators, Margie Omero and Kristen Soltis Anderson, led the Democratic and Republican discussions respectively. (Times Opinion paid them for the work; they do similar work for political candidates, parties and special interest groups.)
This transcript has been edited for length; an audio recording and video clips of the session are also below. As is common with focus groups, the speakers’ last names are not included.
Margie Omero: What were some of the biggest things that happened in 2021?
Scott W. (from North Carolina): The Capitol in January.
Sue (from Kentucky): Definitely.
Scott Z. (from Connecticut): Absolutely.
Margie Omero: How many people have that on their list?
[Six of the nine raise their hands.]
Sue: I think Jan. 6 just because of America’s place in the world. But I think on a more national level, I think the mental health crisis that our country is facing.
Katelyn (from Colorado): Everything is a crisis, a terrifying thing. Mental health, Jan. 6, all the different variants we had, the vaccinated vs. not vaccinated.
Margie Omero: Sue, when you say a mental health crisis, what specifically are you talking about?
Sue: I work with middle school and elementary students. Our biggest issue in my middle school is kids’ mental health and getting their parents to understand that it is a critical issue, and this is why they’re not performing to the level. But state government still wants those [standardized] test results, and they want to see advancement. So I think it puts a lot of pressure on the kids and their families.
Scott Z.: I have granddaughters, and my 2-and-a-half-year-old doesn’t know a time in her life where she didn’t wear a mask. And how is that going to affect her as she grows?
Margie Omero: Thanks, everybody, for that. I want to go back to our 2021 year in review. What’s the first word that comes to mind when I say “Jan. 6”?
Scott Z.: How close we’re coming to the end of a real democracy.
Lawrence (from Ohio): Shocking.
Amanpreet (from California): A little disturbing.
Harold (from Florida): Lawlessness.
Tracy (from Missouri): Devastating. Some people went to work that day and did not return home.
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