The story of former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi’s trial and sentencing for bias intimidation and invasion of privacy stemming from spying on his roommate Tyler Clementi, has been a huge one in New Jersey and nationally.  The New York Times has a summary and links to its coverage here. In our latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll we asked two questions about the case: how much had people in NJ heard about it and what did they think of the sentence imposed on Ravi. Results are detailed in the press release below. Quick summary. Nearly everyone has heard at least something about the case – only 3% say they heard nothing. And a majority (51%) of all NJ adults believe that the sentence handed down was not tough enough. Only 7% say it was too tough, while 39% say it was what Ravi deserves.

We would have liked to have asked more questions about this case, but unfortunately public polling like we do always operates with a tension between what we would like to do and the amount of money we have to do it. This poll included several question batteries, including our usual stuff on the political front, as well as some research questions being used by faculty and grad students. (We’ll be releasing more on this poll next week.) When we tested it all, the questionnaire was far too long for our budget (and probably would have been long enough to annoy respondents.) So things had to go. That left us with very little room to ask about the Clementi-Ravi case, so we did our best. In the end, even with just these two simple questions, we seem to have gotten a sence of what New Jersey thinks about the sentencing – a majority would have liked to have seen Ravi pay a higher price.

EDIT: 6/7/12 9:00am.  There have been some challenges to our poll this morning which we would like to note. Mark Di Ionno of the Star-Ledger writes that we overstate our results somewhat and that, more importantly, our question about Ravi leaves out important information. Since as an academic survey research center we are very much about education, it seems like a good idea to provide some reaction to these concerns. On the first, that we overstate the results, Mark says we characterized the findings as “most” NJ residents think the sentence was too lenient. We did NOT do that – we said most New Jerseyans had HEARD about the case, and a MAJORITY believe this. Unfortunately regardless of how we write the  press release, we do not control how the media reports it. Nonetheless we may not have been careful enough to make clear that opinion is quite split, focusing more on the majority position than on the other two.

The second point, about question wording, is an important one. We know question wording matters, and there is always a tension between developing questions that are too long and complex versus that do not get enough information across. In this case, we made the decision to write a shorter question focused on the key aspects of the sentence, particularly the jail time. Would the results be different if we had included more details – the exact amount of community service and the fine imposed? Frankly we don’t know, of course, since that isn’t what we did. The decision here was that most of the focus of public discussion has been on the jail sentence and whether it was appropriate. So our question led with that but also noted the existence of the probation (related to a jail sentence) and community service. It is hard to assess whether including the additional details would have made people more or less likely to believe the sentence was appropriate. While we suspect it would have made relatively little difference (perhaps moving some people one way and others the other way), our assessment of the public discussion of the sentence is that most of it focused on the issue of jail time, and thus that was the most salient thing for public opinion.

Reasonable people can disagree, and in retrospect it would have been nice to be able to test the components of the sentence themselves. In any case, we are committed to transparency which is why Mark Di Ionno could actually see the full question we asked. All reputable pollsters release the exact text of their questions so that you can judge for yourself what was done.


Full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release with questions and tables.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Just over half of New Jersey residents believe Dharun Ravi’s sentence for bias intimidation and invasion of privacy in the Tyler Clementi case was “not tough enough,” according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Thirty-nine percent think Ravi got “the sentence he deserves,” seven percent believe the punishment was “too tough,” and four percent are unsure.

Ravi was sentenced on May 21 to 30 days in jail, three years probation, community service and a fine for using a webcam to spy on Clementi, who was his roommate at Rutgers. He could have been sentenced up to 10 years in prison. Belief that Ravi’s sentence is too lenient holds up across a wide range of demographics, with just a few exceptions.

Most New Jerseyans had heard about the case. More than three-quarters (78 percent) say they had heard a lot, compared to 19 percent who had heard only a little and 3 percent who had heard nothing at all.

“Virtually everyone had heard about the case and has an opinion on it,” said Poll director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers. “The case gripped New Jersey and the country, and the sentencing has generated strong opinions. In the end New Jerseyans agree with a recent statement by Tyler Clementi’s parents that Dharun Ravi’s sentence is not enough.”

Results are from a poll of 1,191 adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from May 31-June 4. The sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.

Opinions about sentencing cut across most demographic divides

Many of the typical divisions seen among subgroups do not exist in opinions about Ravi’s sentencing. Democrats, independents, and Republicans show virtually the same pattern: at least half of each group (52 percent, 50 percent, and 52 percent, respectively) think Ravi’s sentencing was too lenient while nearly four in 10 of each group (39 percent, 38 percent, and 38 percent, respectively) say Ravi got the sentence he deserves. Liberals, moderates and conservatives show a similar pattern.

Black and white New Jerseyans feel similarly: 51 percent of whites and 47 percent of blacks believe the sentence was not tough enough. Even more Hispanic Garden Staters (62 percent) say Ravi got off too easily while 30 percent said the sentence was fair. About 40 percent of whites and blacks say the sentence was just.

When considering the age of respondents, the general patterns of the full adult sample hold with one difference: 57 percent of younger residents say the punishment was not harsh enough, higher than any other age group.

“Those who are closest in age to Ravi and Clementi may feel the case more directly and may be empathizing more with the victim than older New Jerseyans,” said Redlawsk.

Although few say that Ravi’s sentence was too tough, men are more likely than women to hold this opinion, by a 10 to 3 ratio. More than half of women (52 percent) and 49 percent of men say the sentence was not tough enough, while 41 percent of women and 36 percent of men say Ravi got the sentence he deserves.

Less educated residents say Ravi should pay a higher price. Well over half – 56 percent – of those without a college degree say the sentence should have been stronger; 48 percent of college graduates and 44 percent with even more education agree. Better educated respondents are evenly split over the sentence at about 44 percent. Only one-third with less education say the sentence is appropriate.

Immigrants more likely to believe sentence too tough

Immigrant status clearly stands out as a difference maker among respondents. Immigrants or those with a parent born outside the United States are much more likely to say that Ravi’s sentence is too harsh. While 53 percent of New Jerseyans born here say the sentence was not tough enough, only 40 percent of immigrants agree. Non-native New Jerseyans are more likely to believe Ravi got what he deserves (43 percent), while another 12 percent say the sentence was too harsh. But only 38 percent of those born in the U.S. say the sentence was appropriate, while 5 percent see it as too tough.

New Jerseyans with a parent born outside the country follow a similar pattern: 9 percent believe Ravi’s sentence was too tough, 43 percent believe it was not tough enough and 44 percent believe he got the punishment he deserves. In contrast, a majority (55 percent) with parents born here believes the punishment was insufficient, whereas 36 percent thought it was appropriate and 5 percent thought it was too extreme.

“It seems those who are immigrants or who come from immigrant families are more supportive of Ravi, who is an immigrant himself,” noted Redlawsk. “This may come from a sense of community among immigrants, who see Ravi as one of them, though it does not necessarily suggest they condone his actions.”

Religious beliefs also seem to define differing opinions: more Catholics (55 percent) and Protestants (53 percent) believe Ravi’s sentence was too lenient, while 45 percent of Jewish residents agree. But those of other religions – including a small group of Muslim respondents – are more likely to believe Ravi’s sentencing was “too tough” (10 percent, compared to 5 percent each for Catholics and Protestants), much less likely to believe his sentence was “not tough enough” (39 percent) and more likely than Catholics and Protestants to believe that he “got the punishment he deserves” (47 percent, compared to 36 percent of both Catholics and Protestants).

“The ‘other’ category for religion includes a small group of Muslims, as well as other respondents who do not characterize themselves in one of the three largest religious groups,” said Redlawsk. “While we do not have enough data to analyze Muslims independently, all signs point to a greater belief that Ravi was treated too harshly in being punished for his actions among these residents.”

Awareness influences opinion

While most New Jerseyans heard at least something about the Ravi story, those who had heard a lot are more likely to believe that Ravi’s sentencing was not tough enough. More than half of this group – 52 percent – thinks his sentence should have been harsher. But among those who heard less about the story, 45 percent feel the same. Not surprisingly, those who had heard less about the case are more likely to be unsure about the sentence, with 9 percent saying they “don’t know” compared to only 3 percent of those who had heard a lot about it.


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