Today we begin a set of releases for our newest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll which was in the field from Dec 3-10. Our first release focuses on a simple question we asked about the failure of the grand juries in Missouri and New York to issue indictments in the recent deaths of Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO) and Eric Garner (Staten Island, NY) in their encounters with police. The killings and the subsequent grand jury decisions have sparked nationwide protests about police violence and the questions of race-based disparity in America. Our question was simple – do New Jerseyans support the decisions made by the two grand juries?

Because our survey was packed with many questions and issues, we were not in a position to ask every respondent about both cases. Moreover, we made the decision that we wanted to keep the situations separate so that responding to one would not influence responses to the other. So we split our sample, and asked about half of our respondents about Ferguson and the other half about the New York City case. In order to analyze the two, we weighted the individual subsamples independently to the New Jersey adult population, so we could make direct comparisons. While the result is that we have smaller samples for each question, the differences in opinion about the two cases, as well as between groups within each sample are very large, and quite stark.

New Jerseyans are more in support than opposed to the outcome in Missouri; but in reality it is only white New Jerseyans who tend to think the grand jury was right.  Nonwhite residents overwhelmingly believe the grand jury’s failure to indict in the Michael Brown killing was the wrong decision. Young people, women, and Democrats also think the grand jury got it wrong.

However, opinion is different about the Garner killing in New York. Across the board, New Jerseyans think the grand jury got it wrong. Just over one-quarter of residents support the decision not to indict, while 59 percent oppose it. Even so, the same race, gender, age, and partisan gaps appear as with Ferguson. Whites, men, older residents, and Republicans are far more supportive of not indicting the police officer in the case than are their counterparts.

The full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF with text, questions, and tables.



Residents split over Ferguson, Mo., police shooting

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A clear majority of New Jerseyans say a Staten Island grand jury was wrong in its failure to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. At the same time, residents are significantly more supportive of the non-indictment in the Ferguson, Mo., shooting death of Michael Brown, killed by police officer Darren Wilson.

In the Ferguson case, where Brown was shot multiple times by Wilson, 45 percent of Garden Staters support that grand jury’s decision not to indict, while 39 percent say it was the wrong outcome. Sixteen percent are unsure.

Just 26 percent of New Jerseyans think the New York grand jury made the right decision in the case of Garner, who was restrained in a chokehold, while 59 percent say the decision not to indict was wrong and 15 percent are not sure.

“The results in New Jersey parallel national polling that has shown Americans support the Ferguson decision but oppose the New York outcome,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “The differing perspectives on the two cases may reflect greater uncertainty about the facts in Ferguson. Those facts are contended, including the question of whether the police officer felt threatened for his life. There is less disagreement about what happened in New York.”

Across both cases, men are much more likely than women to support the grand jury decisions, while whites are dramatically more supportive than nonwhite residents. Garden Staters under 35 are noticeably less supportive of both grand jury decisions than older residents, as are Democrats compared with Republicans.

Results are from a statewide poll of 750 residents contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Dec. 3-10, 2014, with a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points. For these questions, respondents were randomly divided into two groups, with 385 in the Ferguson group and 365 in the NYC group. Respondents answered questions about only one of the two situations. The margin of error is +/- 5.6 percentage points for the Ferguson question and +/-5.8 percentage points for the New York question.

A vast racial divide in both cases

White New Jerseyans have very different reactions to both grand jury decisions than do non-white residents, the poll shows. In the Ferguson case, 62 percent of whites say the grand jury made the right choice in not indicting Wilson, while only 20 percent think the grand jurors got it wrong. But just 20 percent of nonwhite New Jerseyans agree with the Ferguson grand jury while 65 percent think Wilson should have been indicted.

Closer to home, while whites think Pantaleo should have been indicted in the Garner case, nonwhites are even less supportive of the outcome. Thirty-five percent of whites support the decision not to indict in New York, but just 14 percent of nonwhite New Jerseyans agree. And, while 46 percent of whites say the grand jury should have indicted the police officer, more than three-quarters of nonwhites take this position. Whites and nonwhites are equally likely to be unsure about the Ferguson case, but Whites find the New York situation much less clear: 19 percent are unsure if the grand jury decision was correct, compared with just 9 percent of nonwhite residents.

“This is as wide a racial divide on an issue as we have seen in a very long time,” noted Redlawsk. “While the small sample size does not allow us to look at variation among nonwhites in any detail, we do know that virtually none of the black respondents in the poll support either grand jury decision.”

Men more strongly support grand jury decisions

Men in New Jersey are 12 points more likely than women to say the Ferguson grand jury made the right decision not to indict, supporting it by a 51 to 35 percent margin. Woman, however, are more likely to think the grand jury was mistaken; 39 percent say its decision was right, while 43 percent disagree.

In the New York case, men are nearly twice as likely as women to support the decision not to indict, 35 percent to 18 percent. A full two-thirds of New Jersey woman think an indictment should have been handed up, compared to 50 percent of men.

Residents under 35 see the results differently

Garden State residents overall are more in favor than opposed to the Ferguson grand jury decision, but those under 35 see things differently. Just 30 percent think the decision to not indict was correct, while 55 percent say it was incorrect. Older residents have the opposite take. Support for no Ferguson indictment is 49 percent among New Jerseyans 35 to 54 years old, and 53 percent among those 55 and older.

The same pattern holds for New York. Older residents are stronger supporters of the grand jury decision than are younger ones, with 18 percent of those under 35 saying the grand jury did the right thing, while 65 percent disagree, a 47-point gap. The margin closes to 29 points among residents between 35 and 54 years old (28 percent agree with the decision and 57 percent disagree), and to 25 points among those over 55, with 31 percent supporting and 56 percent opposing the grand jury decision.

Republicans and Democrats completely disagree

The gap between Republicans and Democrats appears as if “the two partisan groups are looking at entirely different situations,” according to Redlawsk. Seventy-one percent of Republicans and GOP “leaners” support the Ferguson grand jury while only 17 percent disagree. Among Democrats and those leaning toward the party, just 28 percent support the grand jury, while 57 percent oppose the outcome of its deliberations.

Likewise, Republicans are much more likely to support the Staten Island grand jury at 46 percent, compared with 15 percent of Democratic partisans and leaners.

“National polling shows that both deaths and the failures to indict the police officers involved have polarized Americans,” said Redlawsk. “New Jersey is not immune to this dynamic. Despite our diversity, or maybe because of it, residents are living in two very different worlds. Older, white, male, and Republican residents show strong support for Officer Wilson in Ferguson, while at the same time having more mixed feelings about the non-indictment in New York. But women, younger residents, Democrats, and especially non-white New Jerseyans are all but united in their belief that both grand juries got it wrong.”


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Filed under Eric Garner, Ferguson, Michael Brown, Race, Staten Island

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