The two Rasmussen polls I featured last week didn’t ask specifically whether the shooting was justified, only whether the verdict was. Rasmussen found a near-majority in agreement with the jury (48/34). ABC/WaPo: A 41/41 dead heat, with the question of whether the shooting was justified splitting 26/40 against. How could the public be divided on the verdict but much less divided on the shooting itself? Because, I assume, one question deals more with moral culpability and the other deals with legal culpability. There’s some subset of people here who probably believe (a) either Zimmerman’s at fault for getting out of his car in the first place and/or that he’s lying about how the confrontation happened but also (b) the prosecution simply didn’t prove manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, 41 percent believe he’s not guilty but only 26 percent believe he’s truly innocent.
The white/black divide on both questions is as enormous as you’d expect. Fully 87 percent of blacks think the shooting was unjustified and 86 percent disagree with the verdict; among whites, 51 percent support the verdict and there’s an even 33/33 split between those who think the shooting was justified and those who think it wasn’t. What about Hispanics, though? Last week’s Rasmussen data suggested (but didn’t clearly state) that they were marginally inclined to support the verdict. Here’s what ABC/WaPo found when it asked if the shooting was justified:
That view, that the shooting was unjustified, prevailed across nearly every demographic — political, racial, age. The notable exceptions who think it was justified are Republicans, conservatives, and voters 65 and over, all of which overlap considerably. As for the racial split on the verdict itself, Hispanics give that thumbs down too:
There’s a sharp, notable gender gap within the general public on the trial’s outcome — men support the verdict 47/33 and women oppose it 36/48 — and a sharp age gap, with younger voters lopsided in disagreement and older voters lopsided in support. There is, as you might expect, a sharp partisan gap too, which is partly a function of the racial composition of both parties. Democrats and Republicans are virtually mirror images of each other at 22/62 and 65/20, respectively, on whether the verdict was correct. Independents, however, side with the GOP on this one, backing the verdict, 44/35. They also side with Republicans in opposing federal charges for Zimmerman. The GOP splits 17/72 in opposition while indies split 36/50. Democrats, naturally, support federal charges 57/29. Overall the public narrowly opposes federal charges, 39/46. When Rasmussen polled that question, he found only 21 percent support for a new federal prosecution.
So, why the discrepancy between this poll and Rasmussen’s? My first thought is that Rasmussen typically polls only likely voters, which tend to be more conservative than the general population. But unless I’m misreading this, his Zimmerman polls were of adults nationally, just like ABC/WaPo’s. Another possibility is that O’s comments on Friday moved the needle. He didn’t criticize the verdict, but if you’re a low-information voter who didn’t follow the trial tuning in on Friday to find the president somberly discussing racial injustice, you’d know what lesson you’re supposed to take from the outcome. Ras’s poll was conducted before Obama’s comments, but WaPo’s poll included part of the day Friday after he’d spoken plus all of Saturday and Sunday. Third possibility: A few extra days of unhappy media coverage, starting with the “Justice for Trayvon” protests this weekend, might be shaping opinion in the aftermath. Any other explanations? What’d I miss here?
Update: Pew is out with its own poll of the verdict this afternoon that lines up in many ways with ABC/WaPo’s data, especially in Hispanic disapproval of the verdict. One interesting finding comes in the second question here: