Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

Poll: 59% of Democrats Say Criminal Justice System Treats White Americans More Fairly Than Minorities, 62% of Republicans Say System Treats All Equally



On Monday, protesters in Ferguson, MO continued their fourth day of renewed protests over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. Protestors brought signs and t-shirts with slogans including "Black Lives Matter" and "My Blackness is Not a Weapon." The incident has reignited public debate over accountability and racial bias in the nation's police departments and the criminal justice system more generally.

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds 44 percent of Americans believe the criminal justice system in the United States treats white Americans more fairly than black and Hispanic Americans. Another 45 percent believe the system treats all racial groups the same, 6 percent think the system favors black and Hispanic Americans, and 5 percent aren't sure.

When it comes to perceptions of systemic bias in the criminal justice system, Democrats are significantly more likely to perceive bias than Republicans and independents. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats believe America's criminal justice system treats white Americans more fairly than minorities; only 35 percent think the system treats all fairly. In stark contrast, 62 percent of Republicans believe the system treats everyone equally under the law, while 26 percent say white Americans are treated better. Independents are divided with 40 percent who say the justice system is fair, and 37 percent who believes it's biased against minorities.

African-Americans and Hispanics are also significantly more likely than white Americans to perceive systemic bias. Fully 83 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics say whites are treated more fairly than minorities. Only 34 percent of white Americans agree that the system gives them preferential treatment; instead, 53 percent believe the system treats all Americans equally.

Younger Americans are much more likely to perceive bias in the system than older Americans, and this cannot be fully explained by greater diversity among younger cohorts. Among 18-34 year olds, 54 percent say the justice system is biased in favor of white Americans, while 40 percent think it treats everyone the same. Americans 35-54 are evenly divided with slightly more (47%) perceiving bias than equal treatment (42%). However, among Americans over 55, a majority—52 percent—says the justice system is fair to everyone, 34 percent perceive a bias in favor of Caucasians.

There is even a slight difference between men and women on perception of bias. A plurality (49%) of women believes white Americans are treated more fairly and 40 percent think the justice system treats all equally. Conversely, 50 percent of men believe the system is fair, and 39 percent believe white Americans are treated more fairly.

Reason-Rupe also finds that Americans living in urban areas are more likely to perceive unequal treatment in favor of Caucasians in the criminal justice system: 55 to 37 percent. In suburban areas, a plurality (47%) believes the system is fair to everyone while 41 percent perceive a bias against minorities. Conversely, a majority (54 percent) of Americans in rural areas say the criminal justice system treats everyone the same, while 34 percent perceive a bias in favor of white Americans.

When we compare these results to the average elected official, such as those in Congress, we find that politicians come from the very demographic groups least likely to believe there is bias in the criminal justice system:

The average member of Congress in 2014 is 57 years old, college-educated, male, and Caucasian. Using a statistical technique, we find a person with the same demographics as the average member of Congress has a 65% chance of believing the criminal justice system in America is fair to all racial groups. In contrast, a similar nonwhite female who is 40-years-old is 26 percent likely to agree.

Basically, those in elected office are most likely to come from demographic groups least likely to detect bias in the criminal justice system. This may help explain why Ferguson residents are so upset—they feel those in power do not believe them nor care about them.

This does not mean that one group is necessarily completely right while the other is completely wrong. This also does not suggest that racial animus implicitly drives those who don't perceive bias in the system. However, the very presence of these stark demographic and partisan differences incontrovertibly merits our close attention. Yet, these very differences are what make constructive debate over criminal justice reform so challenging.

America stands for equal treatment under the law predicated on the belief that all individuals' share inherent equal dignity. However, these tenants are nothing more than empty promises if the state's most powerful tool—its police power—is misused or applied inconsistently. If police power is misapplied, partisan and racial perception differences make it even more difficult to have a constructive debate about it. Until there is greater mutual willingness to listen to the experiences of others, reform and renewal may remain elusive.

The Reason-Rupe national telephone poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1004 adults on cell phones (503) and landlines (501) October 1-6, 2014. The poll's margin of error is +/-3.8%. Full poll results can be found here. including poll toplines (pdf)  and crosstabs (xls). 

NEXT: More Republicans Want Ebola Czar

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. What’s the real takeaway here?

    I think facts can be shown to point that justice is bought in this country – with money, power and wealth. I’ve seen it firsthand many a time.

    If you accept this, then the Right is more Wrong in this poll, eh?

    Oh, I think only about 1/3 of it has to do with being a minority, the rest having to do with economics and political power. But it all comes down to the same thing – we lock up more people than any country on the planet yet tell the rest of the world how free and accepting we are.

    1. That’s not “justice,” Craig… that’s influence to gain benefits from a corrupt and illegitimate set up.

      The “rich and powerful” have no more “justice” than anyone else, because that would mean they must be completely responsible for the consequences of all their choices and actions…

  2. One very large problem with this whole report. NOBODY in America receives anything aproaching “justice” via the police, courts or any government/ bureaucratic encounter. Some individuals absolutely do have greater abuses and injustice inflicted on them, but everyone suffers from the same base problem. Race and so forth are simply excuses, not the reason for injustice.

    Who owns your life? Who has any legitimate authority to dictate your life, habits, preferences, actions or beliefs except you? The only thing you actually “owe” to other people is non-aggression. You don’t harm them, and they don’t harm you. And each person is responsible for defending their own life and authority from the aggressors.

    The Most Dangerous Superstition…..e-2011.pdf
    By Larken Rose

    How many millions have gazed upon the brutal horrors of history, with its countless examples of man’s inhumanity to man, and wondered aloud how such things could happen? The truth is, most people wouldn’t want to know how it happens, because they themselves are religiously attached to the very belief that makes it possible. The vast majority of suffering and injustice in the world, today and spanning back thousands of years, can be directly attributed to a single idea.

    1. “The vast majority of suffering and injustice in the world, today and spanning back thousands of years, can be directly attributed to a single idea.”

      This is simplistic. In a large part, we got to where we are today because of authority. I’m not saying it was pretty (biology and life aren’t pretty), but if the Brits, etc. didn’t have authority and chains of command, it would have never happened.

      We’ve always sent pioneers, either by authority or economic injustice, to blaze trails and often die in the process. In that way we are like many other animal packs….willing to sacrifice some for the good of the herd.

      Simplistic thinking is just that. It’s easy to sit here today with your internet, toilet, clean water, roads, relative freedoms and wealth and say that one word represented all the BAD BAD of the past. But that same word created the modern world you inhabit.

      A more subtle and mature outlook may be that “OK, here we are today – what can we do to eliminate excess authority when it works counter to our freedoms”…..that is, now that we’ve arrived, we have the ability and capability to expand freedoms.

      I’d argue we are doing that slowly – for example, not having a draft into the military. Gays, pot, etc.

      Slow….but happening.

      1. Except that all these so called libertarians here argue that roads are bad and that Ebola should be let into the country. or wait, the people who have ebola are mostly black, i take that back. they should not be let in.

        People here dont really care about freedom or the good of the herd. they care about purpetuating a system where they are on top and keep their white priviledge but get to feel morally superior by acting like they are more about freedom than anyone else. except about any issue that threatens there status on top. then they just say the exact same thing as every other neocon who doesn’t pretend to be a libertarian.

  3. Continued:

    It is not greed or hatred, or any of theother emotions or ideas that are usually blamed for the evils of society. Instead, most of the violence, theft, assault and murder in the world is the result of a mere superstition ? a belief which, though almost universally held, runs contrary to all evidence and reason
    (though, of course, those who hold the belief do not see it that way). The “punch line” of this book is easy to express, albeit difficult for most people to accept, or even to calmly and rationally contemplate:

    The belief in “authority,” which includes all belief in “government,” is irrational and self- contradictory; it is contrary to civilization and morality, and constitutes the most dangerous, destructive superstition that has ever existed. Rather than being a force for order and justice, the belief in “authority” is the arch-enemy of humanity.

  4. In GOP fantasy world, nothing happens outside of white middle class America. This is why the GOP is rapidly fading into obscurity.

    1. That’s just a weird comment. Do you often think other people are lying to you when they tell you their experiences? Or do you just project your feelings onto them and don’t understand why they react differently than you do?

  5. This is symptomatic of a divergent culture. The suburbs and exurbs are relatively safe, the cops are relatively light handed and the system works well. The urban areas are either, swarmed with a high density of policing and draconian laws and enforcement (ala NYC) or are high crime, high poverty areas.

    You have older, lighter and conservative populations responding from the burbs and younger, darker and liberal populations responding from the urban areas.

    1. “This is symptomatic of a divergent culture”

      This has existed for hundreds of years here. Easterners of NY, Boston, Philly, Rhode Island, etc. had absolutely nothing in common with those in the rural south or even the Appalachian states. Nothing.

      Heck, Alexander Hamilton may have started it all….the NYC metrosexual that he was!

    2. “The urban areas are either, swarmed with a high density of policing and draconian laws and enforcement (ala NYC) or are high crime, high poverty areas.”

      So you really think it’s policing that brought NYC’s violent crime rate down by 2/3’s?

      I’d say that some rising economic tides helped…

      1. Giuliani’s $50 jaywalking fine was something of a shortcut, making pedestrian traffic more orderly,helping people get about their day more efficiently, and making the work of street criminals harder.

        You’re right, though; NYC was turning around economically and socially before 9/11 happened, the real reason why NYPD have gotten out of control ever since.

        1. Hard to say a jaywalking fine cut down violent crime from 210K to 70K…..

          Just saying…..

          Being natural authoritarians, we humans sometimes give too much credit to other authoritarians (so-called leaders like Rudy).

          1. I certainly wouldn’t say he did it all by himself, just that a few high-visibility measures from the start can have an impact. BTW, in the last few visits to the city, I’ve noticed more jaywalking with impunity.

  6. Keep blaming it on the reaction to the bad behavior and not on the behavior itself and see if anything gets better.

    1. The bad behavior of proven institutional racism the in American criminal justice system?

  7. Those Democrats still prefer statist solutions to everything, and that majority of Republicans polled would be perfectly fine with a more fascist approach to law enforcement. In other words, little has changed, and we who believe in liberty have much more work to do.

  8. Yes, I think it’s unfair, but it’s difficult to filter out the cases where race was a factor when the police are killing unarmed people all the time. Was race an issue when a flash grenade burned a baby in Georgia? Was race an issue when Kelly Thomas was beaten to death? Was race an issue when homeless man James Boyd was shot? Everyone is screaming that Michael Brown was killed because of racial issues, but with police murdering and injuring people of all races, who knows whether race was a factor or it was just a normal cop killing.

  9. as Justin said I’m alarmed that a mother can make $5038 in 4 weeks on the computer . go to website http://www.MoneyKin.Com

  10. What is “unfairly” even supposed to mean? The US justice system disproportionately stops innocent young black males. But that’s at least in part because suspects are disproportionately described as young black males. Is that “unfair”? Racial perception differences are rooted in actual demographic differences and differences in crime rates that won’t go away just because you prefer them not to exist.

    What I am pretty sure about is that whatever unfairness and racism exists in the US justice system (and there is some), it is not the primary cause of the problems of African Americans. Furthermore, remedies advocated by progressives are not going to fix these problems, they are going to exacerbate them.

    I suggest people read Jason Riley and Thomas Sowell’s books on race; they address these issues.

    1. You can control for all possible relevant factors and all the evidence shows plain racial bias throughout the criminal justice system from pulling people over to sentencing to ultimate punishment.

      I suppose it’s your way of acknowledging that black people have superior fortitude by suggesting that they can and should pull themselves up from their bootstraps even though they are inherently disadvantaged?

    2. “whatever unfairness and racism exists in the US justice system (and there is some), it is not the primary cause of the problems of African Americans”

      Well…at first I was going to agree with you, but you lumped unfairness and racism.

      The primary cause is racism and the long term effects and policies from the Civil War to modern times. The “libertarian” approach to the black economic situation was/is foolish – that is, “ok, you are free, now pull yourselves up by your bootstraps and you can be like we are”.

      Much of white wealth goes back generations. Much of that wealth revolves around land given to people for nothing…..or, in other cases, to franchise given to them which black folks had no access to.

      Racism has beaten down the black folks in many subtle ways. Here is one example. A local retail shop owner paid their employees very well – and was looking to hire some new sales folks. Whites applied and blacks applied. The area is “GOP White CEO Suburban”. The owner told me some of the black folks were very qualified but “I don’t think my customers will react very well when a black dude rings their doorbell and inspects their house”.

      This may be fading away now in many paces, but in the 1990’s it was front and center and I think it still is in many places.

      So this causes economic hardship which then causes all the other problems of poverty.

  11. my friend’s sister makes $83 an hour on the laptop . She has been fired for ten months but last month her payment was $12435 just working on the laptop for a few hours
    Find Out More. ????????????

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.