If any group of people in the country needs to be watching the hearings of the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, it is the people of Tennessee.
In early-to-mid-April, a poll for the Tennessee Democracy Forum found only a slim plurality of Tennessee voters (46% - 44%) believed Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election – despite the fact that the results were counted, certified and officially audited by trusted local elections officials, as required by law.
Worse, a small majority, 51% to 49%, told pollsters they believed the Jan. 6 riot was a legitimate form of political discourse rather than an insurrection.
Never mind that an estimated 10,000 people stormed the Capitol after a rally by Donald Trump entreating the crowd not to let "them" — Congress — steal the election. The riot went on for seven hours and at least 2,000 rioters made it inside the Capitol after breaking windows and attacking Capitol police. Five people died and 140 officers were injured. A Capitol police officer testified last week to the Jan. 6 committee about the "war scene" and "chaos" she saw and about "slipping in people's blood." The violence resulted in more than 700 arrests. More than 165 rioters have pleaded guilty and 70 have been sentenced. The Capitol repair has long since topped $30 million, including new security fencing.
But here are more poll findings from Embold Research and commissioned by the Tennessee Democracy Forum. These responses, released on the eve of the first prime-time hearing of the committee, show Tennesseans strongly support pro-democracy measures that would check presidential power.
Voters were asked their views on provisions of the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in December 2021.
* Two-thirds or 66% of Tennessee voters strongly supported (and another 15% somewhat supported) prohibiting presidents from issuing pardons to themselves and members of their family; 63% strongly supported (and another 23% somewhat supported) increasing protections for federal government whistle blowers and 48% strongly supported (another 19% somewhat supported) requiring candidates for president and vice president to provide copies of tax returns from the 10 most recent taxable years to the Federal Election Commission so they can be made public.
* To another question, 58% of Tennessee voters said they strongly supported (14% somewhat supported) strengthening legal protections against discriminatory voting policies and practices.
It seems Tennesseans know what's right and not right, yet we still have a blind spot for Donald Trump and his outrageous, disastrous and some say illegal efforts to stay in power.
The disconnect is a bit mind-numbing: Fewer than half of us, 46% of Tennessee volunteers, in April thought Biden's victory was legitimate, while 48% said we would not (39%) or might not (9%) vote for senators or congress members who would have overturned Biden's election by voting against the election's certification — the very thing the Jan. 6 insurrection was intended to scuttle.
In this same state where most of us would be tougher on presidents, 25% of us would definitely or maybe vote for candidates who would overturn the 2020 election.
And an astounding (to us at least) 27% said it would make no difference to them and their vote what their Congress member did.
Let us put this a different way: 52% of us said we would vote for or didn't care about a Congress member who tried to negate America's votes.
Meanwhile, for the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in which led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon, the Tennessee Democracy Forum released another set of questions from its April poll of 1,125 registered Tennessee voters. Some 80% of those voters said they were very or somewhat familiar with Watergate. Of them, 66% said Watergate was a very serious matter that revealed corruption in the Nixon administration (as opposed to 34% who said it was just politics that both parties engage in).
All of these findings demonstrate exactly why Tennesseans need to turn off Fox News and talk, talk, talk some more about democracy. Or at least listen to folks who know more.
That's what the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tennessee Democracy Forum is all about — especially with its planned series of a half-dozen live remote and in-person "Conversations on Democracy" in coming months. See the organization's web page at tndemocracyforum.org. (Read here Sunday some highlights from the most recent convo with The Bulwark editor-at-large, Bill Kristol.)
What a concept. Tennesseans talking and learning — somewhere other than on social media and Fox.