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Public Weighs in on Potential Race Relation Impact of Trial Verdict

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Majority supports efforts beyond current equality laws

West Long Branch, NJ – The public is split on whether a conviction for the murder of George Floyd will have a lasting impact on race relations in the country, but most believe a “not guilty” verdict would be a step backwards. About half of the public believes that police are more likely to use excessive force against a black person than a white person in similar situations, according to the Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll. Also, 7 in 10 Americans agree that other factors in our society prevent equality of opportunity even when the law requires it.

Most of the country has been following the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd last May. More than 6 in 10 (63%) have heard a lot about it and 31% have heard a little, while just 6% have heard nothing at all. If Chauvin is found guilty of murder, 37% feel this will be a positive step for race relations in the country while 12% say it will be a negative step. However, a plurality of 46% say race relations would not change either way. If he is found innocent of the charges, though, a clear majority (63%) say this will be negative for race relations. Just 5% say it would be positive and 29% say it would not change race relations on the whole.

There is not a lot of difference between white Americans and people of color on the impact they think these different verdicts would have on race relations. However, there are significant differences among whites based on their partisan identity. Just 13% of whites who identify as Republican or lean to the GOP say a guilty verdict would be a positive outcome for race relations, while a majority (56%) of whites who identify as Democrat or wholly independent feel it would. Differences of opinion on the impact of a not guilty verdict are less stark but still significant. While 56% of white Republicans say Chauvin being let free would be a negative step for race relations, 77% of other whites feel that way.

“Most people feel a not guilty verdict would be more consequential than a guilty verdict in the long run. The key difference is that a conviction may not improve race relations, but the impact of a not guilty outcome would be expected to be largely negative,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. [Note: this analysis reflects public attitudes about the potential impact of a verdict; it is not an assessment of the actual guilt or innocence of the accused in a court of law.]

Nearly half (49%) of the public feels that police officers are more likely to use excessive force against a black person than a white person in similar situations. This is slightly lower than early June, in the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, when 57% said the same; but this sentiment is higher than in prior Monmouth polls (34% in 2016 and 33% in 2014). There is a huge gap between white Americans who identify as Republican (12%) and non-Republican whites (77%) on whether police are more likely to use force against a black person.

Thirty percent say that there is more racism among police officers than among other groups in society while 14% say there is less and 51% say there is the same amount. Non-Republican whites (42%) are more likely than Republican whites (10%) to say there is more racism among the police than other groups.

Looking back at nearly a year of protests over police involvement in the deaths of Black civilians, 36% say that the anger of these protesters, regardless of their actual actions, is fully justified. This number is similar to 39% who said the same in the fall but has dropped from 46% in late June and 57% in early June. Another 30% in the current poll say the protestors’ anger is partially justified and 32% say it is not at all justified. Those saying the protestors’ anger is fully justified includes 41% of people of color (including 58% of Black Americans). Among whites, 33% say this anger is fully justified, but that breaks down to just 5% among white Republicans compared with an overwhelming 61% among other whites.

“The partisan lens that separates white Americans on racial issues is astoundingly huge,” said Murray.

Most Americans (79%) say racial and ethnic discrimination is a problem in the United States, including 63% who say it is a big problem. Just 20% say it is not a problem. This result is basically unchanged from November (65% big problem), but remains lower than early June (76%) when protests started across the nation. Demographically, 72% of people of color (including 90% of Black Americans) see this as a big problem, while 59% of white Americans agree. Among whites, though, there is a significant difference between those who identify as Republican (32%) and those who identify as Democrat or completely independent (85%).

Fully 9 in 10 (91%) of Americans say it is very important that all races have equal opportunities and 7 in 10 Americans agree that other factors in our society prevent many people in certain racial and ethnic groups from achieving equality even when the law requires equal opportunity (including 45% who strongly agree and 25% who agree somewhat). Similarly, 7 in 10 support efforts to achieve racial equity that go beyond current laws on providing equal opportunities (including 51% who strongly support this idea and 19% who support it somewhat). Support for additional efforts to provide equal opportunities is much more likely to come from non-Republican whites (88%) than Republican whites (42%).

“Most Americans seem to agree that current efforts to create equality do not go far enough, but the partisan gap among whites is a crucial dividing line on what should happen next,” said Murray.

In the end, most Americans remain basically optimistic about the future of race relations. This includes 23% who are very hopeful and 48% who are somewhat hopeful. On the other hand, more than 1 in 4 are either not too (17%) or not at all (11%) hopeful. The combined number who are not hopeful (28%) is somewhat higher than in polls conducted last year (15% in September and 16% in June).

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from April 8 to 12, 2021 with 800 adults in the United States.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS     

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

[Q1-6 previously released.]

[Q7-21 held for future release.]

22.Do you think that racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States is a problem or not a problem? [If PROBLEM: Is it a big problem or a small problem?]

   TREND:April
2021
Nov.
2020
Early Sept.
2020
Late June
2020
Early June
2020
July
2016*
Jan.
2015
Yes, big problem63%65%65%67%76%68%51%
Yes, small problem8%11%11%10%12%12%21%
Yes, but not sure if big or small8%4%5%4%4%7%9%
No, not a problem20%18%18%17%7%10%18%
(VOL) Don’t know1%1%1%1%0%3%1%
(n)(800)(810)(867)(867)(759)(805)(1,003)

        *Registered voters

23.When thinking about the future of race relations in America, do you feel very hopeful, somewhat hopeful, not too hopeful, or not at all hopeful?

   TREND:April
2021
Early Sept.
2020
Late June
2020
Very hopeful23%29%26%
Somewhat hopeful48%54%56%
Not too hopeful17%9%10%
Not at all hopeful11%6%6%
(VOL) Don’t know1%2%2%
    (n)(800)(867)(867)

24.How important is it that all races have equal opportunities – very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?

   TREND:April
2021
Jan.
2015
Very important91%84%
Somewhat important7%12%
Not too important0%1%
Not at all important1%2%
(VOL) Don’t know0%1%
     (n)(800)(1,003)

25.Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Even when the law requires equal opportunities, other factors in our society prevent many people in certain racial and ethnic groups from achieving equality? [Do you agree/disagree strongly or somewhat?]

  April
2021
Strongly agree45%
Somewhat agree25%
Somewhat disagree11%
Strongly disagree15%
(VOL) Don’t know4%
    (n)(800)

26.Do you support or oppose greater efforts to achieve racial equity that go beyond current laws on providing equal opportunities? [Do you support/oppose strongly or somewhat?]

  April
2021
Strongly support51%
Somewhat support19%
Somewhat oppose12%
Strongly oppose15%
(VOL) Depends2%
(VOL) Don’t know2%
    (n)(800)

27.As you know, there have been protests over the past year about incidents involving police and the deaths of Black civilians. Regardless of the actual actions taken by the protesters, do you think the anger that led to these protests is fully justified, partially justified, or not at all justified?

   TREND:April
2021
Early Sept.
2020*
Late June
2020*
Early June
2020*
Fully justified36%39%46%57%
Partially justified30%34%28%21%
Not at all justified32%24%23%18%
(VOL) Depends on which protests1%1%1%1%
(VOL) Don’t know1%2%2%3%
    (n)(800)(867)(867)(759)

* 2020 polls asked about “protests over the past few months” and early June poll referenced “the burning of a police precinct in Minneapolis.”

28.When faced with a difficult or dangerous situation, are police officers more likely to use excessive force if the culprit is black, or are they just as likely to use excessive force against black and white culprits given the same type of situation?

    TREND:April
2021
Early June
2020
July
2016*
Dec.
2014
More likely49%57%34%33%
Just as likely41%33%52%58%
(VOL) Police do not use excessive force1%1%2%1%
(VOL) Don’t know8%9%12%8%
    (n)(800)(759)(805)(1,008)

          *Registered voters

29.Do you think there is more racism, less racism, or about the same amount of racism among police officers than among other groups in society?

   TREND:April
2021
Late June
2020
Dec.
2014
More racism among police30%28%25%
Less racism among police14%14%12%
Same amount of racism51%51%56%
(VOL) Don’t know5%7%8%
    (n)(800)(867)(1,008)

30.How much have you heard about the murder trial of the Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd – a lot, a little, or nothing at all?

  April
2021
Lot63%
Little31%
Nothing at all6%
    (n)(800)

[QUESTIONS 31 & 32 WERE ROTATED]

31.If the police officer is found guilty of murder, do you think this will be a positive step or negative step for race relations in this country, or will race relations not change either way?

  April
2021
Positive step37%
Negative step12%
Not change46%
(VOL) Don’t know5%
    (n)(800)

32.If the police officer is found innocent of murder, do you think this will be a positive step or negative step for race relations in this country, or will race relations not change either way?

  April
2021
Positive step5%
Negative step63%
Not change29%
(VOL) Don’t know3%
    (n)(800)

METHODOLOGY

The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from April 8 to 12, 2021 with a national random sample of 800 adults age 18 and older. This includes 278 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 522 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone, in English. Telephone numbers were selected through a mix of random digit dialing and list-based sampling. Landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. The full sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information (ACS 2018 one-year survey). Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field), Dynata (RDD sample), and Aristotle (list sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

DEMOGRAPHICS (weighted)
Self-Reported
23% Republican
45% Independent
32% Democrat
 
48% Male
52% Female
 
30% 18-34
33% 35-54
37% 55+
 
64% White
12% Black
16% Hispanic
  8% Asian/Other
 
70% No degree
30% 4 year degree

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with crosstabs