FDU: Denial of Systemic Racism Drives Opposition to Police Reform

Protesters in Newark.

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 the 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 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 the 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 the 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

This 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

 

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