PRINCETON, NJ -- While 68% of blacks say the American justice system is biased against blacks, 25% of whites agree. Blacks' attitudes about the justice system have remained virtually constant over the past 20 years, but whites have become less likely to perceive bias.
The new results are based on interviews with 2,541 Americans, including 1,841 non-Hispanic whites and 230 non-Hispanic blacks, conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking July 16-21, after the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was handed down. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of a young black man, Trayvon Martin.
The Gallup data reveal a continuing divide by race in views of the fairness of the American justice system. This current divergence by race in views of bias in the justice system is broadly similar to attitudes measured in Gallup surveys conducted in 1993 and in 2008, although the percentage of white Americans who say the justice system is biased has dropped by eight percentage points over that time, while the percentage of blacks has stayed constant.
Blacks Say Zimmerman Verdict Was Wrong
These black-white differences regarding the criminal justice system are reinforced by the results of a separate question asking specifically about the Zimmerman verdict.
An overwhelming 85% of blacks say the verdict in this case was wrong. A majority of whites (54%), on the other hand, say the verdict was right. Americans overall are divided in their views of the verdict: 43% say it was right and 40% wrong.
These results are almost exactly the opposite of blacks' and whites' reactions to the innocent verdict handed down by a Los Angeles jury in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995. In a survey conducted in October of that year, about two weeks after the verdict, 89% of blacks said the jury had made the right decision, while by a 53% to 36% margin, whites said the jury's decision was wrong.
The "not guilty" verdict in the Zimmerman trial has resulted in outpourings of complaints about racial bias in the way the U.S. criminal justice system works today. This past weekend saw demonstrations across the country calling for "Justice for Trayvon," and President Barack Obama weighed in on the situation, recalling times when he himself as a young man felt discriminated against because of his race.
Although data from Gallup's annual Minority Rights and Relations poll -- conducted June 13-July 5, before the Zimmerman verdict was announced -- show that in a number of instances, blacks have become more positive about the status of race relations in this country, that is apparently not the case in terms of whether the justice system in this country is biased against blacks. Reflecting the significant gulf in how blacks and whites look at this aspect of society, a significant majority of whites say the system is not biased, and that majority has grown over the past 20 years. Two-thirds of blacks continue to say the justice system is biased.
These underlying attitudes provide the cognitive framework black Americans and white Americans use to interpret specific instances of the criminal justice system at work, including views of the recent Zimmerman case, in which blacks say the verdict was wrong while whites say it was right.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 16-21, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 2,541 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
For results based on the total sample of 1,841 non-Hispanic whites, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the total sample of 230 non-Hispanic blacks, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.