While Americans are Sharply Divided on Grand Jury Decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, Most Police Officers are seen as Positively Impacting Communities

New York , N.Y. – December 11, 2014 – In the wake of recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY – along with the protests which have followed nationwide – national discussions have occurred on a variety of issues, including discrimination, police procedures, personal responsibility, and the delicate relationships between prosecutors and police forces.

Looking specifically at these cases, just over half of Americans support the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (52%); three in ten (30%) oppose the decision, while 10% are unsure and 8% say they have not followed the case at all.

American sentiments shift considerably when questioning turns to Staten Island. When asked about the decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, a plurality of Americans (48%) oppose the decision and fewer than three in ten (28%) support it; 11% are unsure, while 13% have not followed the case at all.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,276 adults surveyed online between November 12 and 17, 2014.

In both cases, opinions show divisions along racial lines:

  • This is especially pronounced in regards to the decision in Ferguson, with the majority of white Americans supporting the decision (58%, with 24% opposed) while nearly two-thirds of African Americans oppose it (65%, with 23% supporting it).
  • While opinions are divided in relation to the Staten Island decision as well, they are at least aligned directionally, with a plurality of white Americans (42%) and the majority of African Americans (78%) opposing the decision (with 33% and 11%, respectively, supporting it).

Most police officers seen as having a positive impact

In the midst of this unrest, it is important to recognize that a vast majority of Americans report positive sentiments toward police in general, with 85% believing that most police officers have a positive impact on the communities where they work. While divisions do exist between the percentages of white Americans (88%) and African Americans (72%) agreeing with this sentiment, strong majorities of each do support this point of view.

More divisive is the question of whether police officers should be given the benefit of the doubt in criminal proceedings. Nearly six in ten Americans agree with this sentiment overall, but white and black Americans are divided on the issue, with a majority of white Americans agreeing with this sentiment (59%) while a majority of African Americans disagree (56%).

Discrimination perceptions

When considering a list of specific areas of life in America, over half of Americans (53%) feel that blacks are discriminated against in the way they are treated by police and nearly half say they are discriminated against in getting full equality (47%) and in the way they are treated as human beings (46%).

While police procedures and conduct have been under something of a media microscope in recent weeks, it should be noted that the perception of blacks as discriminated against in the way they are treated by police has in fact declined since the beginning of the year (down 6 points from the 59% reported in January).

Strong majorities of African Americans feel blacks are discriminated against in the way they are treated by police (86%), in getting full equality (81%) and in the way they are treated as human beings (81%), among many other areas of life in America. Most notably, the perception among blacks that they are discriminated against in the way they are treated as human beings has grown considerably since January (up 10 points from the 71% observed at that time).

Prosecutorial process

Americans do recognize that vulnerabilities may exist in our justice system when it comes to criminal proceedings involving police officers. Seven in ten Americans (70% – 68% white, 83% African American) believe that state and local prosecutors involved in cases against police officers face a conflict of interest, while roughly six in ten (61% – 57% white, 82% African American) feel more specifically that prosecution of police officers should be handled at the federal level.

 

TABLE 1

PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS IN AMERICA – By All Adults

Below is a list of some specific areas of life in America. For each, please indicate if you think blacks are discriminated against in that area or not?

Percent saying Discriminated Against

Base: All Americans

1969

1972

2008

Jan 2014

Dec 2014

vs. 1969

vs. Jan 2014

%

%

%

%

%

% Points

% Points

In the way they are treated by police

25

29

58

59

53

28

-6

In getting full equality

47

44

46

45

47

=

2

In the way they are treated as human beings

39

41

43

44

46

7

2

In getting white collar office jobs

42

44

37

34

38

-4

4

In getting decent housing

50

52

34

34

33

-17

-1

In the wages they are paid

27

26

33

31

33

6

2

In getting skilled labor jobs

40

42

29

27

28

-12

1

In getting a quality education in public schools

28

32

29

26

28

=

2

In the way they are treated by the federal government

n/a

13

23

23

25

+12

2

In getting into labor unions

26

30

17

18

18

-8

=

In getting manual labor jobs

22

23

14

15

16

-6

1

In getting hotel and motel accommodations

38

33

16

19

15

-23

-4

In the prices they pay in grocery stores

16

18

10

10

10

-6

=

Note 1: n/a indicates not asked in that year

Note 2: 1969 and 1972 data collected via telephone; 2008 and 2014 data collected online

Since 1972

 

TABLE 2

PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS IN AMERICA – by Black Americans

Below is a list of some specific areas of life in America. For each, please indicate if you think blacks are discriminated against in that area or not?

Percent saying Discriminated Against

Base: Black Americans

1969

1972

2008

Jan 2014

Dec 2014

vs. 1969

vs. Jan 2014

%

%

%

%

%

% Points

% Points

In the way they are treated by police

76

66

89

85

86

10

1

In getting full equality

84

72

86

78

81

-3

3

In the way they are treated as human beings

77

64

75

71

81

4

10

In getting white collar office jobs

82

68

77

70

77

-5

+

In the wages they are paid

73

61

76

63

69

-4

6

In getting skilled labor jobs

83

66

74

61

65

-18

4

In getting decent housing

83

66

76

62

60

-23

-2

In the way they are treated by the federal government

n/a

41

62

60

60

+19

=

In getting a quality education in public schools

72

53

67

45

56

-16

9

In getting into labor unions

64

47

42

41

42

-3

1

In getting manual labor jobs

58

47

34

30

36

-22

6

In getting hotel and motel accommodations

68

44

29

36

28

-40

-8

In the prices they pay in grocery stores

51

35

31

34

22

-29

-8

Note 1: n/a indicates not asked in that year

Note 2: 1969 and 1972 data collected via telephone; 2008 and 2014 data collected online

Since 1972


TABLE 3

PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS IN AMERICA – by White Americans

Below is a list of some specific areas of life in America. For each, please indicate if you think blacks are discriminated against in that area or not?

Percent saying Discriminated Against

Base: White Americans

1969

1972

2008

Jan 2014

Dec 2014

vs. 1969

vs. Jan 2014

%

%

%

%

%

% Points

% Points

In the way they are treated by police

19

25

54

55

48

29

-7

In getting full equality

43

40

39

41

42

-1

1

In the way they are treated as human beings

35

38

37

39

41

6

2

In getting white collar office jobs

38

40

29

28

32

-6

4

In getting decent housing

46

51

27

28

29

-17

1

In the wages they are paid

22

22

24

25

27

5

2

In getting a quality education in public schools

23

29

22

22

24

1

2

In getting skilled labor jobs

35

40

21

22

23

-12

1

In the way they are treated by the federal government

n/a

10

17

16

20

+10

4

In getting into labor unions

22

28

12

14

14

-8

=

In getting hotel and motel accommodations

35

31

13

15

13

-22

-2

In getting manual labor jobs

18

20

10

12

13

-5

1

In the prices they pay in grocery stores

12

16

7

7

8

-4

1

Note 1: n/a indicates not asked in that year

Note 2: 1969 and 1972 data collected via telephone; 2008 and 2014 data collected online

Since 1972

 

TABLE 4a

POLICE & PROSECUTOR ATTITUDES

Summary Grid

How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

Base: All adults

AGREE

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

Most police officers have a positive impact on the communities where they work.

85

42

43

15

10

5

State and local prosecutors involved in cases against police officers face a conflict of interest.

70

27

43

30

21

8

Prosecution of police officers should be handled at the federal level.

61

24

38

39

22

17

Police officers should be given the benefit of the doubt in criminal proceedings.

58

16

42

42

27

13

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4b

POLICE & PROSECUTOR ATTITUDES

Agree/Disagree Summaries by Race

How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

Base: All adults

AGREE (NET)

DISAGREE (NET)

Total U.S. Adults

White/ Caucasian

Black/ African American

DISAGREE (NET)

White/ Caucasian

Black/ African American

%

%

%

%

%

%

Most police officers have a positive impact on the communities where they work.

85

88

72

15

12

28

State and local prosecutors involved in cases against police officers face a conflict of interest.

70

68

83

30

32

17

Prosecution of police officers should be handled at the federal level.

61

57

82

39

43

18

Police officers should be given the benefit of the doubt in criminal proceedings.

58

59

44

42

41

56

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 5a

SUPPORT OPPOSE RECENT GRAND JURY DECISIONS

Summary Grid

As you may or may not be aware, grand juries in two recent, highly publicized cases chose not to indict (meaning they chose not to recommend the cases proceed to trial). How strongly, if at all, do you support or oppose each of these decisions?

Base: All adults

SUPPORT

Strongly support

Somewhat support

OPPOSE (NET)

Somewhat oppose

Strongly oppose

Unsure

N/A – I have not followed the case at all.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

52

35

17

30

11

19

10

8

[Among those who have followed the case]

56

38

18

33

12

21

11

n/a

 

 

The decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY.

28

15

14

48

17

31

11

13

[Among those who have followed the case]

33

17

16

55

20

35

13

n/a

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5b

SUPPORT OPPOSE RECENT GRAND JURY DECISIONS

Support/Oppose Summaries by Race

As you may or may not be aware, grand juries in two recent, highly publicized cases chose not to indict (meaning they chose not to recommend the cases proceed to trial). How strongly, if at all, do you support or oppose each of these decisions?

Base: All adults

SUPPORT (NET)

OPPOSE (NET)

Total U.S. Adults

White/ Caucasian

Black/ African American

Total U.S. Adults

White/ Caucasian

Black/ African American

%

%

%

%

%

%

The decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

52

58

23

30

24

65

[Among those who have followed the case]

56

63

23

33

26

67

 

 

The decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY.

28

33

11

48

42

78

[Among those who have followed the case]

33

38

12

55

49

83

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between December 8 and 10, 2014 among 2,276 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #110, December 11, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll