It’s not surprising that much of the country is watching developments unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, with a combination of horror and shock. But the Pew Research Center found that while Americans may be riveted by dramatic scenes near St. Louis, there’s no real consensus about the larger role of race as it relates to the crisis.
Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults, finds that the public overall is divided over whether Brown’s shooting raises important issues about race or whether the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
Looking solely at the top-line results offers a misleading summary. Overall, Pew found that 44% believe the case in Ferguson raises important issues about race that require discussion, but nearly as many, 40%, believe race “is getting more attention than it deserves.”
And at first blush, that might make it seem as if the public is closely divided. But it’s the nature of those divisions that matters most – 80% of African Americans believe the Brown shooting and subsequent events raises important issues about race, and 50% of Latinos agree, but among white respondents, the numbers are flipped. Indeed, a plurality of whites believes race is getting too much attention, while only 37% take the other side.
We may all be watching the same crisis unfold, but we’re not all seeing through the same eyes.
Also note, there are political divisions on the same issue. Indeed, the split between Democrats and Republicans was nearly as great as the split between whites and blacks. From the Pew report:
Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to view the police response to the Ferguson shooting as appropriate and to express confidence in the investigations into the incident. More Republicans think the police response has been about right (43%) than say it has gone too far (20%); 37% have no opinion. Democrats by 56% to 21% say the police response has gone too far (23% have no opinion). Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (65%) have at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting, compared with 38% of Democrats.
In the poll, only 22% of self-identified Republicans agreed that the crisis Ferguson raises important issues about race. It was the single lowest percentage of any demographic group (race, ethnicity, age, education level) in the Pew report.