Denial of Systemic Racism Drives Opposition to Police Reform

For Immediate Release

Contact:                           

Dan Cassino/Executive Director, FDU Poll    

 973.896.7072/ dcassino@fdu.edu

 

Denial of Systemic Racism Drives Opposition to Police Reform

Police reform cost Murphy big in NJ Gov race; Many don’t think systemic racism exists

Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ, November 11, 2021 – New results from the FDU Poll show that beliefs about systemic racism are strongly linked to opposition to police reforms, and these views played a key role in the unexpectedly close race for New Jersey governor last week. Many people, including a plurality of whites, simply don’t believe that there is significant systemic racism in the US today and oppose attempts to correct it with police reforms.

During his first term in office, Democratic governor Phil Murphy put several significant reforms in place, which were the subject of intense attacks from his Republican opponent, Jack Ciattarelli. While some of the reforms are popular – 73 percent of New Jersey voters support requiring officers to report other officers they see violating use of force rules – others are not. For instance, just 42 percent of voters support rules that prevent officers from arresting minors for possession of alcohol or marijuana.

“When we asked voters about these issues, support for Murphy cratered,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the executive director of the poll. “The difference between asking about police reforms and not asking about them is the difference between the ten-point win people were expecting and the two-point win Murphy got.”

In the survey, an experiment was used to assess the effect of police reform on voter choice. Voters who were not asked about police reform favored Murphy by nine points; those who were asked about police reforms before being asked about the governor’s race favored Murphy by just two points, almost exactly his final margin in the election (as reported in FDU’s last pre-election poll).

In addition, the survey included a series of questions about controversies in American policing like the police having military-style weapons and equipment, whether police officers have to break the rules sometimes, and whether regulating the police makes the public less safe. For instance, 67 percent of voters in New Jersey agree that police wouldn’t have to use force if suspects just did what they were told. Responses to the question series were combined into a single index, with higher values meaning that someone was more against police reform, and lower values meaning that someone was more in favor of police reform.

Two factors proved to have the biggest impact on opposition to police reform: partisanship, and views of race in the US. While these factors are correlated – Democrats are more likely to think that systemic racism is an important factor in US society – views of systemic racism prove to be even more important than partisanship in shaping views of police reform, and even vote choices.

“It’s become an article of faith among many, mostly white, voters that there is no such thing as systemic racism,” said Cassino. “And that view is going to structure how they view a whole host of other issues.”

Opinions about racism in the US were measured with three questions. Respondents were asked if the US has gone too far, or not far enough, in giving Blacks equal rights; if the legacy of slavery affects Blacks in the US today; and whether the bigger problem is seeing discrimination where it does not exist, or not seeing it where it does. There is significant disagreement on these questions: for instance, 53 percent say that not seeing discrimination where it exists is the bigger problem, while 47 percent say that seeing discrimination where it doesn’t exist is more of an issue.

When the three questions are combined, they indicate whether an individual tends to believe that systemic racism exists in the US, or not: a high score indicates that an individual believes in systemic racism, while a low score means they do not. Overall, 27 percent of New Jersey voters got high scores. saying that there is significant systemic racism against blacks in the US, and 33 percent fell into the “low” category, indicating that they do not believe that there is systemic racism in the US.

Overall, younger people and women are more likely to say that there is significant systemic racism in the US. One-third of women (34 percent) fall into the “high” category, compared to just 18 percent of men. One-third of voters 65 and over (32 percent) fall into the “low” category, denying that there is systemic racism against Blacks in the US, compared to just 17 percent of voters under 30. Interestingly, education makes no difference in the scores.

Whites are also much less likely to believe that systemic racism against Blacks exists: 40 percent are in the “low” category, compared to just 10 percent of Blacks and 17 percent of Hispanics.

View of systemic racism plays a bigger role in views of police reform than party does. For instance, half of those who say that systemic racism exists “strongly agree” that the police should not have military-style weapons and equipment. Among those who don’t believe that there is systemic racism in the US, that figure is only 11 percent. That 38 point gap is much larger than the gap (26 points) between Republicans and Democrats on the issue. Similarly, 94 percent of those who think systemic racism is real, also say that suspects should just do what they’re told to avoid the use of force. This compared to just 28 percent of those who don’t think systemic racism is real agreed.

“The case for police reform is based on the idea that there is systemic racism against Blacks in the US, and that the police are a big part of that,” said Cassino. “The problem for supporters of police reform is that many Americans, and even many Democrats, don’t think that systemic racism really is an issue, so they don’t think that reform is needed.”

While these views about systemic racism are tied to people’s political views – Democrats are much more likely to be in the “high” category, and Republicans more likely to be in the “low” category – the effects are found even within parties. For instance, Murphy won 95 percent of Democrats who say that there is significant systemic racism in the US, but only 74 percent of Democrats who don’t think that it exists. Among Republicans, Democrats and independents, voters who say that systemic racism doesn’t exist are much more likely to oppose police reforms. Importantly, the effects of beliefs about systemic racism seem to trump the effects of even party: at low and moderate levels of the scale, there is a range of opinions between parties. But among those voters who don’t believe that there is systemic racism, there is no difference in opposition to police reform between partisan groups.

“If Democrats want to push police reforms, reparations, or any other policy tied in with race, they first have to convince people that systemic racism actually exists,” said Cassino. “There’s a case to be made, but they have a lot of work to do.”

Methodology

The survey was conducted between October 23 and October 28, 2021, using a certified list of registered voters in New Jersey. Respondents were randomly chosen from the list and contacted via either live-caller telephone interviews or text-to-web surveys sent to cellular phones, resulting in an overall sample of 823 respondents. 249 of the interviews were carried out via landline telephones, with the remainder (580) going to cellular phones. Surveys were conducted only in English.

The data were weighted to be representative of the population of voters in previous New Jersey gubernatorial elections. The weights used, like all weights, balance the demographic characteristics of the sample to match known population parameters. The weighted results used here are balanced to match parameters for sex, age, and race/ethnicity. Weights for education of the respondents were considered, but found to be unnecessary, as the characteristics of the sample closely matched the target weighted characteristics.

SPSSINC RAKE, an SPSS extension module that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables using the GENLOG procedure, was used to produce final weights. Weights were trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis helps to ensure that the demographic characteristics of the sample approximate the demographic characteristics of the target population. The size of these weights is used to construct the measure of design effects, which indicate the extent to which the reported results are being driven by the weights applied to the data, rather than found in the data itself. Simply put, these design effects tell us how many additional respondents would have been needed to get the weighted number of respondents across weighted categories: larger design effects indicate greater levels of under-representation in the data. In this case, the calculated design effects are approximately 1.34.

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. Sampling error should be adjusted to recognize the effect of weighting the data to better match the population. In this poll, the simple sampling error for 823 registered voters in New Jersey is +/-3.4 percentage points, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Including the design effects, the margin of error would be +/-4.5 percentage points, though the figure not including them is much more commonly reported.

This error calculation does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question-wording, differences in translated forms, or context effects. While such errors are known to exist, they are often unquantifiable within a particular survey, and all efforts, such as randomization and extensive pre-testing of items, have been used to minimize them.

Weighted Telephone Sample Characteristics

823 Registered Voters in New Jersey

Figures are weighted to overall voter characteristics from previous gubernatorial elections. Respondents who refused to answer a demographic item are not included.

 

Man                                

46%                 N = 379

Woman                            

53%                 N = 435

Some Other Way          

1%                  N = 5

 

18-29                          

12%                N = 99

30-44                          

22%                 N = 181

45-64                          

41%                 N = 337

65+                              

25%                 N = 208

 

Democrat (with leaners)             

44%                 N = 365

Independent                                 

14%                 N = 116

Republican (with leaners)          

34%                 N = 278

 

White                                           

69%                N = 576

Black                                              

12%                N = 101

Hispanic/Latino/a                                     

11%                N = 87

Asian                                       

3%                  N = 22

Other/Multi-racial                                    

1%                  N = 9

 

No college degree                      

46%                N = 380

College degree or more             

53%                N = 442

 

Question Wording and Order

Half of respondents get governor’s race items before the Police Reform questions, half get them after the Police Reform questions.

NJ1. Many people in New Jersey are now voting by mail, or voting early, rather than voting in-person on Election Day. How about you? Do you plan to…

  1. Vote in person on Election Day
  2. Vote in person before Election Day
  3. Vote by Mail
  4. Not Vote
  5. Or are you not sure?
  6. [DK/REF]

NJ1A. [Only if voting by mail, or in person before Election Day: 2 or 3 in NJ1]: Have you already cast your vote, or not?

  1. Have already voted
  2. Have not yet voted
  3. [DK/REF]

NJ2. Do you approve or disapprove [RANDOMIZE] of the job Phil Murphy is doing as governor?

  1. Approve
  2. Disapprove
  3. [DK/Ref]

NJ3. On the whole, do you have a favorable opinion of Jack Cittarelli, an unfavorable opinion of him, or have you not heard enough to have an opinion one way or the other?

  1. Favorable
  2. Unfavorable
  3. No Opinion

NJ4.[Rotate Order of Options; if NJ1A is 1 (already voted) use alternate wording below] This year, there is a gubernatorial election between Democratic governor Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. Who do you think you will vote for?

  1. Democrat Phil Murphy
  2. Republican Jack Ciattarelli
  3. Someone Else
  4. No One
  5. [Dk/Ref]

NJ4A. [Rotate Order of Options; use if NJ1A is 1 (already voted)] In the gubernatorial election between Democratic governor Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. Who did you vote for?

  1. Democrat Phil Murphy
  2. Republican Jack Ciattarelli
  3. Someone Else
  4. No One
  5. [Dk/Ref]

NJ5. [If NJ1A is 1 (already voted) use alternate wording below] This year, voters are also being asked to vote on a ballot question asking whether betting should be allowed on college sports in New Jersey. Currently, betting is allowed for professional sports, but not for New Jersey teams, or teams playing in New Jersey. What do you think? Do you think betting on college sports in New Jersey…

  1. Should be allowed
  2. Should continue to be banned
  3. Not Sure
  4. [Dk/Ref]

NJ5A. This year, voters are also being asked to vote on a ballot question asking whether betting should be allowed on college sports in New Jersey. Currently, betting is allowed for professional sports, but not for New Jersey teams, or teams playing in New Jersey. How did you vote?

  1. Yes, to allow betting on New Jersey college sports
  2. No, betting on New Jersey college sports should continue to be banned
  3. Not Sure
  4. Didn’t vote on this question [Vol]
  5. [Dk/Ref]

In the last few years, there have been a number of new regulations about what police can and cannot do in New Jersey. I’m going to tell you about some changes in the rules regulating police officers in New Jersey. For each, tell me if you support or oppose the new rule, and if that view is strong, or somewhat.

LO1. Police departments must publicly identify officers who have been suspended, demoted or fired due to bad behavior.

LO2. Police officers may only use physical force against suspects as a last resort, and they must attempt to de-escalate any situation before they use force.

 

LO3. Police officers must report any other officer that they see violating use of force rules.

LO4. Police officers can’t arrest people under 18 for possession of alcohol or marijuana.

 

Strongly Support

Somewhat Support

Somewhat Oppose

Strongly Oppose

Don’t Know [Vol]

Refused [Vol]

 

We’d also like to ask you some questions about law enforcement more generally. For each statement, tell me whether you agree or disagree with the statement, and whether that’s strongly, or somewhat.

LO5. Police shouldn’t be allowed to have military-style weapons and equipment

LO6. Additional regulations on the police necessarily make the public less safe.

LO7. Police officers have to be able to break the rules sometimes in order to keep the public safe.

LO8. If suspects would just do what they’re told, the police wouldn’t have to use force on them.

 

Strongly Agree

Somewhat Agree

Somewhat Disagree

Strongly Disagree

Don’t Know [Vol]

Refused [Vol]

Systemic Racism

These can be tricky topics, but we’d appreciate it if you would answer a few questions about race relations in America right now.

R1. When it comes to giving Black people equal rights with whites, our country has…

  1. Not Gone Far Enough
  2. Gone too Far
  3. Been About Right
  4. [Dk/Ref]

 

R2. The legacy of slavery affects the position of black people in America today…

  1. Not at all
  2. Not much
  3. A fair amount
  4. A great deal
  5. [Dk/Ref]

 

R3. When it comes to racial discrimination, the bigger problem today is people…

  1. Seeing discrimination where it doesn’t exist
  2. Not seeing discrimination where it does exist
  3. [Dk/Ref]

 

 

Release Tables

 

Condition

 

 

With Prime

 

Support in Governor’s Race

No Prime

Prime

Dem

Indp

Rep

Murphy

53

48

93

29

3

Ciattarelli

44

46

3

58

94

Someone Else

2

3

2

13

0

No One

1

3

2

0

3

 

 

High belief in Systemic Racism

Low belief in Systemic Racism

Support in Governor’s Race

Dem

Indp

Rep

Dem

Indp

Rep

Murphy

95

89

33

74

9

1

Ciattarelli

1

11

67

21

85

98

Someone Else

3

0

0

5

6

0

No One

1

0

0

0

0

1

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

 

Party ID

 

When it comes to giving Black people equal rights…

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Dem

Indp

Rep

Not Gone Far Enough

42

37

72

52

73

24

11

Gone Too Far

16

17

7

10

7

17

26

Been About Right

35

39

17

33

17

46

56

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

7

7

4

5

3

13

7

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

 

Party ID

 

The legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people…

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Dem

Indp

Rep

Not at all

24

28

9

12

6

29

44

Not much

15

16

7

14

6

17

26

A Fair Amount

24

24

24

26

32

22

17

A Great deal

31

25

60

48

54

21

6

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

6

7

0

0

2

11

7

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

 

Party ID

 

When it comes to racial discrimination, the bigger problem is…

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Dem

Indp

Rep

Seeing Discrimination where it doesn’t exist

43

47

23

44

18

48

74

Not Seeing Discrimination where it does

48

44

69

52

77

35

16

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

9

9

8

4

5

17

10

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Departments must identify bad officers

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Support

51

50

51

68

45

31

Somewhat Support

21

20

22

18

23

24

Somewhat Oppose

12

13

11

5

15

17

Strongly Oppose

12

14

10

5

13

22

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

4

3

6

4

4

6

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Departments must identify bad officers

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Support

51

76

55

32

Somewhat Support

21

17

23

20

Somewhat Oppose

12

4

9

19

Strongly Oppose

12

2

9

25

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

4

1

4

4

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Force Only As Last Resort

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Support

61

56

66

82

47

40

Somewhat Support

21

22

20

10

29

29

Somewhat Oppose

8

9

6

4

9

14

Strongly Oppose

8

11

5

3

9

15

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

2

2

3

1

6

2

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Force Only As Last Resort

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Support

61

91

69

33

Somewhat Support

21

7

18

30

Somewhat Oppose

8

0

6

16

Strongly Oppose

8

2

5

19

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

2

0

2

2

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Officers must report others seen breaking rules

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Support

71

66

76

86

71

53

Somewhat Support

18

21

16

10

21

30

Somewhat Oppose

5

7

3

2

4

9

Strongly Oppose

3

3

3

0

3

5

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

3

3

2

2

1

3

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Officers must report others seen breaking rules

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Support

71

93

76

52

Somewhat Support

18

7

16

29

Somewhat Oppose

5

0

5

10

Strongly Oppose

3

0

1

6

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

3

0

2

3

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Cannot arrest minors for possession

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Support

23

23

23

29

25

13

Somewhat Support

16

16

16

23

12

10

Somewhat Oppose

17

17

18

19

19

17

Strongly Oppose

37

41

33

22

35

54

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

7

3

10

7

9

6

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Cannot arrest minors for possession

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Support

23

40

23

10

Somewhat Support

16

19

24

7

Somewhat Oppose

17

14

20

19

Strongly Oppose

37

22

28

59

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

7

5

5

5

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Mean Values of Anti-Reform Index

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Overall

0.52

0.24

0.50

0.70

Democrats

0.37

0.24

0.44

0.65

Independents

0.54

0.14

0.46

0.70

Republicans

0.69

0.48

0.65

0.72

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Systemic Racism Score

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

High

27

18

34

45

15

3

Moderate

40

41

40

49

43

30

Low

33

41

27

6

42

67

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

Systemic Racism Score

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

High

27

22

47

17

Moderate

40

38

43

61

Low

33

40

10

22

 

 

 

Education

 

 

 

Age

 

Systemic Racism Score

Overall

No Degree

Coll Degree

18-29

30-44

45-64

65+

High

27

24

29

38

28

22

28

Moderate

40

43

38

45

40

39

40

Low

33

33

33

17

32

39

32

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Police shouldn’t be allowed to have military style weapons and equipment

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Agree

26

26

26

38

19

12

Somewhat Agree

15

12

17

20

17

8

Somewhat Disagree

21

20

22

19

24

23

Strongly Disagree

30

37

25

17

32

49

Don’t Know/Refused

8

5

10

6

8

8

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

Police shouldn’t be allowed to have military style weapons and equipment

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Strongly Agree

26

24

34

33

Somewhat Agree

15

14

18

17

Somewhat Disagree

21

22

16

17

Strongly Disagree

30

33

25

28

Don’t Know/Refused

8

7

7

5

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Police shouldn’t be allowed to have military style weapons and equipment

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Agree

26

49

25

11

Somewhat Agree

15

18

21

7

Somewhat Disagree

21

15

21

25

Strongly Disagree

30

10

27

54

Don’t Know/Refused

8

8

6

3

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Additional Regulations on the police make the public less safe

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Agree

21

23

19

11

26

31

Somewhat Agree

23

24

22

16

26

31

Somewhat Disagree

17

17

18

20

17

14

Strongly Disagree

29

29

27

42

22

14

Don’t Know/Refused

10

7

14

11

9

10

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

Additional Regulations on the police make the public less safe

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Strongly Agree

21

22

16

17

Somewhat Agree

23

24

24

22

Somewhat Disagree

17

17

13

21

Strongly Disagree

29

28

34

27

Don’t Know/Refused

10

9

13

13

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Additional Regulations on the police make the public less safe

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Agree

21

7

19

36

Somewhat Agree

23

7

23

32

Somewhat Disagree

17

19

23

10

Strongly Disagree

29

57

26

15

Don’t Know/Refused

10

10

9

7

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Police officers have to break the rules sometimes

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Agree

15

16

14

9

12

22

Somewhat Agree

26

26

27

22

21

35

Somewhat Disagree

20

21

19

20

27

17

Strongly Disagree

32

33

31

42

34

19

Don’t Know/Refused

7

4

9

7

6

7

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

Police officers have to break the rules sometimes

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Strongly Agree

15

16

10

11

Somewhat Agree

26

28

16

24

Somewhat Disagree

20

20

19

27

Strongly Disagree

32

29

46

32

Don’t Know/Refused

7

7

9

6

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Police officers have to break the rules sometimes

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Agree

15

3

13

25

Somewhat Agree

26

15

30

30

Somewhat Disagree

20

22

21

19

Strongly Disagree

32

54

30

22

Don’t Know/Refused

7

6

6

4

 

 

 

Sex

 

 

Party ID

 

Suspects should just do what they’re told

Overall

Men

Women

Dem

Indp

Rep

Strongly Agree

45

54

39

25

50

71

Somewhat Agree

22

20

24

24

22

21

Somewhat Disagree

12

8

14

17

11

4

Strongly Disagree

18

15

19

30

15

2

Don’t Know/Refused

3

3

4

4

2

2

 

 

 

 

Race/Ethnicity

 

Suspects should just do what they’re told

Overall

White

Black

Hisp/Lat

Strongly Agree

45

50

26

33

Somewhat Agree

22

23

18

20

Somewhat Disagree

12

9

22

17

Strongly Disagree

18

15

32

22

Don’t Know/Refused

3

3

2

8

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism Score

 

Suspects should just do what they’re told

Overall

High

Mod

Low

Strongly Agree

45

12

39

77

Somewhat Agree

22

16

29

17

Somewhat Disagree

12

20

14

3

Strongly Disagree

18

48

16

1

Don’t Know/Refused

3

4

2

2

 

go to what’s new