Polarization Between the Majority and Minority

“The modern Republican Party is about using the power of the government to enforce the beliefs of a radical minority on the majority of Americans.”
~Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American

“I would add that my friend George Lakey, a scholar of non-violent social change, is a great believer in both polarization and crisis as when you sort things out and make progress. And I feel in some ways something’s coming to the head or the situation in the U.S. is coming to a head as a rising majority faces a minority that refuses to give up domination power-control, including over truth and fact.

“I feel like — well you know the the rainbow coalition I mentioned — the majority will win in the end, but not necessarily in the short term. And for human rights, for the climate crisis, for a lot of things, what happens immediately matters. But we will be a non-white majority country in a little over 20 years and the Republican Party has tooled itself to be the party of white grievance. Part of why they need voter suppression is because they’re losing the ability to win elections outside of the really red states and and regions.

“So it feels like the crisis and the sense of things coming to a head is upon us, and figuring out how to win and as soon as possible. You know I’m not a strategist, but I am — as a writer and a historian — a great believer in the importance of describing something accurately is the beginning and to treat a disease first you have to diagnose it.”
~Rebecca Solnit, The “Crisis of Truth” in Democratic Societies

“As Michelle Alexander reminded us recently: “The whole of American history can be described as a struggle between those who truly embraced the revolutionary idea of freedom, equality and justice for all, and those who resisted.” She argues that we are not the resistance; we are the river that they are trying to dam; they are the resistance, the minority, the people trying to stop the flow of history.”
~Rebecca Solnit, The American civil war didn’t end. And Trump is a Confederate president (quoting We Are Not the Resistance)

Where is the demos in democracy?

What do Americans think as a people and a public? That is the eternal question in a country that was made famous by being founded as the first modern democracy. Among serious thinkers, the conventional theory of representative government has been that public opinion generally determines public policy, on average if not in every detail. This is what supposedly gives a public mandate to the political elite to rule on our behalf, as an approximation of self-governance but without direct democracy. Well, that is the theory. Is it true? To question this political dogma, in the past, was considered unpatriotic and seen as an attack on the very ideal of democracy. But times have changed, as has faith in claims of democratic representation.

Let us explore where Americans stand on the issues. This year’s Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) values survey, Dueling Realities: Amid Multiple Crises, Trump and Biden Supporters See Different Priorities and Futures for the Nation (full data and visual summary), brings us some lovely info about the American population and conclusions can be offered (by the way, PRRI is self-described as “an American nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization” that Media Bias Fact Check rates as “Least Biased and High for factual reporting” and FiveThirtyEight grades as A/B). There is a decided shift showing a larger pattern across the board. It could be suggested that Donald Trump’s administration does not represent the direction the country is heading in, assuming there is any hope of actual democracy functioning in the slightest.

Neither is the Republican Party in alignment with the general public nor with Independents. And Republican Fox News viewers are shown to be living in a separate alternative reality — older, whiter, and more right-wing than the average American, although not as far right as the audiences of the Daily Caller, Breitbart News, and the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows (John Gramlich, 5 facts about Fox News). With total lack of awareness, Pew describes the audiences of most media sources as ‘left-leaning’ while not acknowledging that most Americans are ‘left-leaning’ (John Gramlich, Q&A: How Pew Research Center evaluated Americans’ trust in 30 news sources); but left of what, left of Fox News? Then among the religious, white evangelicals are extremists and, among Christians, a minority. Yet the media and political elite obsess over white evangelicals, as if they were the very definition of religiosity and representative of the religious majority — they are not.

These three combined demographics (Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans) represent a minority — not exactly new information. Based on the acronym FER, they’ll henceforth be referred to as ‘Ferengi’. This demographic is situated within the American public and society somewhat in the way that the patriarchal and profit-obsessed Star Trek Ferengi (with their capitalistic religion) represented an alien presence and minority worldview within the socially liberal United Federation of Planets. Even though the Ferengi were not members of the Federation and held themselves apart from Federation society, they nevertheless were tolerated and accepted as part of the Federation’s open and diverse liberal culture of social democracy and democratic socialism, which included being allowed to do business within Federation territory.

Similarly, the American demographic minority that we shall now call ‘Ferengi’ are opposite of and in opposition to the American majority that is progressive, liberal, and leftist across every category of views and values, issues and policies (the metaphor of a political spectrum being a relative concept; how can the American people be on the political ‘left’ if they are the majority public opinion that defines the ‘center’ of American society?). Yet these American Ferengi are given equal rights and freedoms that are protected by the very social liberalism and social democracy that contradicts their preferred ideology of patriarchal authoritarianism, caste-based social Darwinism, xenophobic identity politics, fascist corporatocracy, and theocratic aspirations. This is the Ferengi vs the Federation, neither equals nor enemies but awkwardly situated together.

This Ferengi demographic is a variety of what one could call Faceless Men, in honor of the masked assassins cult in Game of Thrones. The Faceless Men can change guise, in the way that reactionaries co-opt ideological rhetoric and adopt ideological identities. This makes the Faceless Men hard to pin down, but in the case of the Ferengi we at least have some demographic identifiers to clearly mark boundaries. That is the purpose of naming the Ferengi in creating a specific demographic category that has been defined by a favorite disguise of the Faceless Men. Speaking of a ‘conservative’ movement is too vague and misleading. Certainly, not all conservatives are Ferengi and maybe, as one might argue, not all Ferengi are conservatives; depending on what one means by such vague and amorphous labels, though much more clearly defined in social science research. Interestingly, a large part of the American population self-identifies as ‘conservative’ while holding views that are mostly or entirely on the political ‘left’ (an equally large but opposite pattern on the political left is not found in any data). These confused and inconsistent pseudo-conservatives (i.e., symbolic ideology) may or may not vote Republican, but it is highly unlikely that most of them are Ferengi in being white evangelicals who regularly watch and trust Fox News. That is an important distinction to keep in mind while reading further on.

Before moving along, let’s clarify what kind of understanding is implied by this insight and analysis. Yes, American society is and always has been broadly liberal, as a product of Enlightenment thought and revolution, not only the American Revolution but also several major populist revolts during the colonial era and continuing revolts over the centuries since — the Spirit of ’76 is the American Spirit, from the War of Regulation and Shays’ Rebellion to the Coal Wars and the Battle of Athens. The word for ‘democracy’ was not as familiar in early America, but the ideals and ideology of democracy (along with proto-socialism, proto-Marxism, etc) had already begun to take hold with the English Civil War, which had immense impact in shaping early American culture and politics. Heck, proto-leftist rhetoric of egalitarianism and class war was already being heard during the 14th century peasants revolts. What is often misunderstood is that conservatism is not traditionalism, as conservatism did not exist until after the revolutionary period. Rather, it’s a variant of and reaction to liberalism, both of which followed the failure and fall of traditionalism that conservatives as reactionaries sought to replace. The reactionary mind is the shadow of a liberal society and, as the light of liberalism has increased, the reactionary has intensified in its darkness. We live in a reactionary age, as the stress and anxiety mounts, with collective insanity taking hold and collective trauma having become a scar — we are in need of healing.

With an immunocompromised psyche, we all are vulnerable to infection from this virulent mind virus (as based on the terrain theory of ideological immunity). We all contain the potential of becoming Faceless Men, in the way one is turned by the bite of a zombie, vampire, or werewolf. The Ferengi are simply an extreme example of the reactionary, among the first victims of the mind plague, and so our purpose here is not to scapegoat them but to explore what is central to defining American society, not unlike the way the Star Trek Ferengi as a contrast helped shape the Federation identity. As such, the demographic of Ferengi in American society are used as a foil to highlight the qualities of liberalism, in terms of both its ideals and failures, its strengths and Achille’s heel. The Ferengi serve a necessary role in the public imagination and the political narrative. Reactionaries become possessed by and identified with the shadow of society, what we have collectively denied and cast out but cannot make go away. They carry the burden of what we haven’t yet learned to handle. And, maybe in line with Arnold Mindell’s thought, they fill an essential social role that must be represented and fulfilled, if not necessarily in such a distorted manner. The reactionary mind is the return of the repressed. It holds up a mirror to our society, if we dare look.

Despite being a miniscule minority, the Ferengi have an outsized influence in society and the psyche. But we should emphasize the most basic point for our purposes here. These overt reactionaries are a minority that are located at the radical fringe, a minority even among ‘conservatives’. Never forget that. The public opinion of the American public, suppressed and silenced, is something entirely else. The political polarization is not between two equally sized groups but between the broad disenfranchised majority and one specific privileged minority. Still, one way or another, we will be forced to face what the reactionary represents. The reactionary is not only those others but something within us, but that is an issue to be saved for another day. Let us summarize these initial comments with a reassuring thought. Shadow or not, the reactionary mind is not normal and we need to recognize this truth, to constantly remind ourselves of it. We are not defined, as individuals or as a society, by our worst impulses.

What kind of country is America?

In looking at the recent PRRI values survey, we are given a picture of America as seen by Americans, the differences within public opinion and the commonalities. So, what kind of country do we Americans believe we live in? Let’s go straight to the top, God. Most Americans no longer believe God has granted the United States a special role in history. Once having been an article of faith among the majority, only 40% of Americans still hold to this conviction in the shared political religion that dominated during the Cold War, although 64% of Republicans are holding strong to their sense of divine entitlement as the Elect and presumably all of the divine privileges that go with it.

It isn’t solely a partisan divide and maybe as much about specific kinds of religiosity. White evangelical Protestants, unsurprisingly, are totally into American theocracy as seen with their strong support of Donald Trump hand-picked by God as the Chosen One to rule over the Chosen People, albeit this is a slight interpretation of the data on our part. Then again, if much more weakly, black Protestants are barely holding onto a sense of America’s divine status; and many of those black Protestants would be evangelicals as well, though not Trump-idolizing in most cases. But the majority of mainline Protestants, Catholics, etc don’t see it that way. As in the past, the divide continues to be primarily within Christianity, not between the religious and non-religious. For all of American history, Christians have been on both sides of public debates, from slavery and secularism to abortion and gay marriage.

Interestingly, back in the 19th century, it was evangelicals, as a minority religious group, who were among the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state — how things have changed. It was also evangelicals who were supporters of Populism, Progressivism, the Great Society, and the New Deal. Evangelicals weren’t always reactionaries (similar to how libertarians, as leftist anarcho-socialists who originated in the 19th century European workers movement, didn’t begin as reactionary right-wingers either). Like the majority of mid-20th century Protestants, some earlier famous leaders of the religious right and political right, supported a pro-choice position for abortion access in the post-war era. In how conservative religion has been co-opted by right-wing reactionaries since then, evangelicalism has been taken on as one of the many deceptive guises of the Faceless Men.

Besides those two groups of primarily evangelicals, all other measured demographics are probably more prone to believing America has fallen under a divine curse. As for Christians in general, they’re just not buying this divine patriotism and nationalistic idolatry. On the other hand, no demographic, not even white evangelicals, thinks that America is and always has been a Christian nation, not even after four years of the Chosen One, President Donald Trump, ruling the land. America has not been made great again, even if assuming it ever was great. So, it’s hard to know what God’s favor could mean anyhow, as there have always been much more religiously devout countries out there. Indeed, church attendance in the US has been dropping, particularly in the so-called Bible Belt. God looks down on America and says, “No respect, no respect, I tell ya.”

After these rough past few years, the evidence is becoming less and less clear that we are the Chosen People. This calls into question our American Exceptionalism and hence our divine mandate to rule the world as the largest empire in history. But the survey didn’t ask which country now has gained God’s favor in replacing America’s divine status. We’ll have to wait to find out the results on that one, as God works in mysterious ways. For certain, God doesn’t hold the sway he once did here in the grand ol’ US of A, as only 39% agree that believing in Him is necessary for morality. About an equal number (38%) thinks that religion causes more problems than it solves. So, maybe God should look for a more hospitable place to call home.

America has stopped being the moral beacon for the world, according to Americans (74%), whatever might be God’s opinion on the matter. Huddled masses of immigrants take note. Most Republicans don’t see this nation as a good moral example with 55% taking this negative view, when only 33% agreed in 2018. Not even White evangelical Protestants can get on board with a belief in national moral superiority at this point. So, obviously, Trump’s brand of Christian ethno-nationalism wrapped in an American flag hasn’t inspired a populist flood of moral religiosity to buoy up the erectile dysfunction of flaccid public confidence and impotent patriotism. It turns out that there is more to religion than waving a Bible in the air while posing in front of a camera or at least there used to be. The average Christian doesn’t appear to be swayed by such superficial displays and ritualistic performances. It’s easy to forget that most Christians, like most Americans, hold many leftist views. A large majority of Democrats, liberals, and progressives are and always have been Christian; and this majority might grow as Christians, including evangelicals, are turning left; despite formal religious adherence being on the decline.

As opposed to social dominators using faux religiosity as a symbolic conflation to dress up reactionary authoritarianism, some argue there is evidence that genuine religiosity might actually somewhat lessen the extremes of social conservatism: “religious participation may moderate conservatives’ attitudes on other important culture war issues, particularly matters of race, immigration, and identity. […] Taking these results together leaves us with a surprising finding: conservative, Republican, churchgoing Trump voters take more moderate positions on many culture war issues than their self-identified moderate, independent, nonchurchgoing counterparts” (Emily Ekins, Religious Trump Voters: How Faith Moderates Attitudes about Immigration, Race, and Identity). That is as long as the religious in question are not white evangelicals, the driving force of the present religious right, who diverge not only from most Americans but often also many Christians. Church attendance, of course, will simply exacerbate the tendencies within one’s faith tradition. For white evangelicals, that pulls them further into the orbit of Ferengi identity politics.

Yet others argue this remains true for white Christians in general, as Ferengi sympathizers and fellow travelers. “The results point to a stark conclusion: While most white Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans, holding racist views is nonetheless positively and independently associated with white Christian identity. Again, this troubling relationship holds not just for white evangelical Protestants, but also for white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. Moreover, these statistical models refute the assertion that attending church makes white Christians less racist. Among white evangelicals, in fact, the opposite is true: The relationship between holding racist views and white Christian identity is actually stronger among more frequent church attenders than among less frequent church attenders” (Robert P. Jones, Racism among white Christians is higher than among the nonreligious. That’s no coincidence.). The cold shadow of a dark past won’t be so easily thrown off. Even as conscious attitudes change, racism as a mind virus can burrow deep.

Nonetheless, the symbolic power of rhetoric aside, Christian nationalism itself, as a proxy for white supremacism or otherwise, does not hold much significance at this point. Americans have come to a consensus that America is no longer a Christian nation (74%) with a significant portion thinking it never was (22%). An increasing number think that this decline of Christian dominance is a good thing, at 39% which is up from five years ago when it was 29%. One can see a trend in falling religiosity and the weakening of theocratic impulses, as secular nationalism takes hold among the religious and non-religious alike. Maybe the culture wars and political spectacle of infotainment media (both corporate media and social media) has become our new shared religion, as we do devotedly worship it with the authorization it provides in shaping our sense of reality. People scroll their smart phones like rosary beads, bow their heads to their laptops as if before a shrine, and go into altered states as their eyes glaze over watching the boob tube. Churches have steep competition these days.

What’s the matter with America?

Let’s now move onto more general views of what is seen as mattering, since God no longer holds this place of pride. The majority of Americans generally agree with the majority of Democrats in how they prioritize most issues: coronavirus pandemic (respectively 60% & 85%), fairness of presidential elections (57%, 68%), health care (56%, 73%), jobs and unemployment (52%, 58%), crime (46%, 48%), terrorism (45%, 43%), abortion (36%, 35%), appointment of Supreme Court Justices (40%, 44%), federal deficit (36%, 31%), immigration (33%, 36%), and trade agreements with other countries (23%, 19%).

On the last four issues, Republicans are close to being in agreement as well. But on the first seven, Republicans strongly disagree with both the general public and Democrats. And on three other highly polarized and partisan issues (racial inequality, climate change, and growing gap between rich and poor), the average American is about smack dab in the middle between the two camps. Actually, they are leaning toward the middle on some of the others as well, although they have a general alignment with Democrats while, in those cases, Republicans are found on the complete opposite extreme. Two examples of the latter are 39% of Republicans seeing the coronavirus pandemic as critical and 33% with that opinion about health care, in contrast to 60% and 56% for Americans in general which is about equally distant from Democrats, though on the same side of the minority-majority divide as Democrats. So, in some cases, where Democrats have a strong majority view, that of the general public is a mere moderate majority; but, in both cases, in opposition to Ferengi and most other Republicans.

It gets interesting with a religious breakdown. When looking at the top three issues for each group, there is wide agreement about the coronavirus pandemic and fairness of presidential elections. There is a consensus on these two among most included religious demographics: white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, White Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, Other Christians, and the non-Christian religious. That makes this the majority religious position about what is seen as central at this present moment. As such, there is a general focus and set of priorities that keeps religious Americans on the same page.

Also, Hispanic Protestants and the Unaffiliated put the coronavirus pandemic in their top three picks, but not fairness of presidential elections. White evangelical Protestants, interestingly, did agree about fairness of presidential elections, if by that they meant their minority position should eternally rule, while being alone in stating great concern for terrorism and abortion, indicating that they are highly motivated by thoughts of violence and death, if not the slow violence and mass death by other means (poverty, class war, air pollution, lead toxicity, lack of healthcare, racial oppression, war, CIA covert operations, economic sanctions, etc), and of course they love the widespread violence of law-and-order, militarized police, war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the death sentence in order to enforce and maintain social control. As another popular issue, healthcare was held up as important to four of these demographics: Hispanic Protestants, White Catholics, Other Christians, and Unaffiliated.

In general, most Americans want healthcare reform, and specifically universal healthcare with ever growing support and demand. It’s interesting to note how this is so popular with White Catholics who, by using divisive culture war rhetoric, were brought into line with the Republican Party in high rates of voting for Trump, partly as swayed by the Catholic Kellyanne Conway and the Catholic Steven Bannon. By the way, Conway once worked for Richard Wirthlin, the religious right pollster and advisor to right-wing politicians, including Ronald Reagan. This is how voters can be manipulated into betraying their own self-interests through symbolic ideology and what is called the Wirthlin effect, how social identity politics as superficial groupthink of ‘values’ rhetoric can undermine the moral force of an actual moral majority.

Are Americans racists or socialists?

Here is a funny one. Almost half of Americans perceive the Republican Party as having been taken over by racists and the Democratic Party by socialists. The people in each party disagrees with that view, but it is amusing because of the lopsided quality of the accusations. Most Democrats don’t identify as socialist even as they wouldn’t take it as a slur against their good character, whereas Republicans understandably freak out when they get called racists. No one wants to be thought of as a racist, not even most racists these days. Despite the well-funded right-wing culture wars and class war, the left is slowly and belatedly winning the war of rhetoric. That is largely because some politicians on the left have openly embraced leftist labels; such as Bernie Sanders and socialism, regardless of the fact he wasn’t actually a socialist.

Also, that is because a growing number of Americans identify with the socialist label while an ever shrinking minority still openly embraces racist ideology. As Sarah van Gelder, in looking at other polling, explained the former: “While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.” As the older generations die off and the country becomes a majority of racial/ethnic minorities, along with inequality growing worse, net positive view of socialism could become common or even mainstream in the coming decades. Socialism might become the new majority position before too long, in response to the extremism, atrocities, and injustice of corporatocratic capitalism and plutocratic social Darwinism.

At the very least, socialism is already part of socially acceptable public debate, albeit still contentious for the moment, at least as portrayed in corporate media and corporate-owned politics. Yet when it comes to racism, even Donald Trump feels compelled to deny it even while he is throwing out blatantly racist rants. The fact that racism has to be hidden behind lies, if open and obvious lies, demonstrates how shameful it is perceived. Everyone understands that racism is no longer acceptable (neither politically correct nor morally good), as public opinion has shifted far left on social issues. At the same time, public opinion is likewise going left on fiscal issues. Attempting to slander Democrats as socialists and fellow travelers doesn’t quite have the sting it did during the Cold War when there was a real threat of harm to leftists (McCarthyist witch hunts, corporate blacklisting and blackballing, etc). Instead, it has had the unintended effect of normalizing ‘socialism’, as a word to be bandied about, no matter the lack of any shared understanding of what it means.

These changes are seen all across the board, as a recent Fox News poll proved, not to mention the hundreds of other polls that have shown the same. To take another key example, from 2015 to 2020, the majority switched from agreeing to disagreeing with the statement that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life, and for as long as this question has been asked by PRRI this is the first time this response was seen. As the Cold War is growing distant, so is the War on Terror. But once again, Republicans stand alone in clinging to these old fears and animosities of a prior age of mass propaganda and bigoted xenophobia. Most Americans, instead, are focused on collective problems that are immediate and concrete: economic troubles, COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare reform, climate change, etc.

There are some even more damning divides on racial issues. Once a minority position, an emerging majority (56%) has been persuaded that cops killing Blacks is part of a broader pattern, not mere isolated incidents. In 2015, 53% said the opposite was true. Yet, as always, Republicans (79%) and Fox News viewers (90%) cling to their worst hateful prejudices in presently siding with this institutionalized and systemic racist law-and-order, compared to 40% independents and 17% of Democrats. That is a vast gap in public opinion. This further demonstrates the persistent demographic pattern of the reactionary Ferengi as distinct from the progressive and liberal majority. As the rest of America wakes up to this sad state of affairs, the political right has remained steady with their cold hearts unmoved by pleas of injustice and oppression, violence and suffering.

But it is good to be reminded that they are a polling minority in their callous disregard toward racial minorities, whereas white Democrats have fallen almost exactly in line with blacks, such that we could look to radicalized white liberals as the canary in the coal mine. White Independents, now at 46%, have also edged down into seeing racist-driven killings as a problem; although White Americans in general are hovering right on the divide of public opinion with equal numbers going both directions. As for white Christian groups, most of them are still feeling a bit racist while steadily moving away from the hardcore racism of white evangelical Protestants (70%), their former reactionary alignment weakening as white mainline Protestants have dropped down to 57% racist and white Catholics at 58% (Tara Isabella Burton, Study: when it comes to detecting racial inequality, white Christians have a blind spot). For the time being, as summarized by PRRI’s CEO Robert Jones, it remains a conflict of worldviews between “white Christian groups — and everybody else.” That demonstrates that it’s far from only being about the hardcore religious right of evangelicals and fundamentalists, but it also clarifies the toxic brew of religiosity and white grievance.

What is the racial and racist divide?

To really get at racism, PRRI divided the polling sample into demographically equal sub-samples. They received questions about protests that were identical except in one way, by mentioning blacks or by not mentioning race at all. This was a brilliant way to get at people’s honest opinion and what is motivating it. Americans in general agree (61%) with the statement “When Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government, it always makes our country better.” But Americans are almost divided (52%) whether such free speech and freedom to assemble also applies to “Black Americans” or if, instead, we should continue to disenfranchise and oppress racial minorities as is the pervasive, systemic, and institutionalized status quo of American tradition.

The only two measured demographics, as brought up in the PRRI report, that absolutely believe all Americans should have equal rights are blacks and Democrats, although many of the other demographics still mostly favored giving blacks such rights (the views of other races and ethnicities were not mentioned in the report but might be available in the raw data). The demographics of white conservatives all were strongly opposed to blacks not being violently oppressed and silenced, but to be fair they were less supportive and more divided on protesting in general. Even so, most Americans, no matter their race, are equal in their majority support of the citizen’s right to protest. Once again, conservatives are the minority even among whites.

But, of course, America’s racist history rears its ugly head the moment the question is racialized. The variations in demographics, though, are not entirely as expected. As most Americans support protesting on principle, even if only a slim majority holding to the same for blacks, there is nonetheless many white demographics that would defend this right for blacks. There are the college-educated, as always; in that not being ignorant helps. Gender, though, is the opposite of how typically portrayed. White men (50%) are more supportive of black protests than white women (44%), which might relate to white men being one of the key demographics where Trump saw declining numbers among his voters this past election, while Kellyanne Conway’s professional expertise has always been in helping misogynistic GOP candidates gain the white woman vote (in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton as a white woman lost the demographic of white women), similar to the role played by the ilk like Sarah Palin. So, white men can’t be blamed for everything. This also indicates that the Ferengi phenomenon is not merely an issue of The Man. The Ferengi do defend white patriarchy, but many of those defenders happen to be white women (for example, in watching Fox News, our mother has become a more rabid conservative and GOP partisan than our father).

Besides conservatives, it’s the white religious, including among mainline Protestants, who are among the most racist on this issue, as their majority support for protests drops to 35-38% when applied to blacks. This reminds one of why most Americans now assume that believing in God is not necessary for being moral, and increasing number actually takes religion as problematic for a free and democratic society. Obviously, the religious faith of these whites has not helped them to see all humans as the children of God with souls that are equal before God. When blacks are at issue, they don’t see souls at all, much less the content of their character, but just their bodies and the color of their skin.

A similar pattern is seen with White Christian groups being most likely to view Confederate flags and monuments as symbols of Southern pride, rather than racism. It’s strange that racism among whites tracks so closely with religiosity or at least religious identification, although other data shows many of these people don’t actually attend church (e.g., lower religiosity rates in the so-called Bible Belt). This says a lot about religion in America, at least as a symbolic ideology. Indeed, anyone familiar with American history knows that churches and religious leaders played an important role in defending and maintaining slavery, Jim Crow, sundown towns, etc. Yet religion was also central in blacks fighting back against oppression and injustice, as seen with the civil rights movement that included support of particular mostly white religious groups (e.g., Quakers).

The divide over racism within American Christianity is itself racial. The vast majority of black Christians believe in a God who loves all people equally, but this view of God’s universal love is not nearly so strongly held by white Christians. For all of our cynicism, this is a bit shocking to our egalitarian sensibilities in having been raised in a liberal church that was majority white. It might not be expected that the racial division would be this stark along religious lines, although it is a tired truism well known in the South that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. And this is an area where the Ferengi hold immense sway in creating the sense of a divided and polarized country.

Is there unity in diversity?

Even so, white conservatives and white Christians aren’t completely lost in fear and bigotry. Among Republicans, only 17% claim (or admit?) to prefer the U.S. to be made up of people of western European heritage. That is barely above the national average of 10% in support. Similarly, a mere 18% are bothered by the idea of America where most people are not white. It’s a little bit higher with Republicans at 27%, but that isn’t too bad with nearly three-quarters not in support. The numbers would have been starkly different not that long ago. The increase of immigrants and the growing number of minorities, not to mention the rise of interracial relationships, is having an impact on changing attitudes. It’s become normalized to show diversity in the media. It’s no longer perceived as strange and scary. On Fox News these days, they now have more non-white hosts and they often make sure to have token minorities on their panels and focus groups.

Still, the full and open embracing of diversity remains a divisive issue and the population is about evenly split. That is to say, even though white supremacy is not seen as the solution, Americans hold onto concerns about multiculturalism or whatever it is a symbolic proxy for (breakdown of communities? loss of culture of trust? social stress from rising inequality?). As expected, those who more fully embrace diversity are Blacks, other non-whites, the multiracial, and college-educated whites. It should be noted that these are growing demographics and, when combined, already represent the American majority. This is one of the many anti-Ferengi alliances, if typically unacknowledged in ‘mainstream’ media and politics. So, America is not only a leftist majority but also a diverse and diversity-embracing majority.

Gender roles and social norms were another area the PRRI survey looked into. In a mirror image of opposing views, most Americans disagree (60%), contrary to most Republicans that agree (60%), that society punishes men just for acting like men. About an equal number of Republicans also think that society has become too soft and effeminate (63%). Both Democrats and Independents are in line with the majority in opposition to Republicans. The religious are evenly divided on this issue, as are men. That is quite intriguing, though, that half of men have no worries about these conservative or rather reactionary fears of a supposed decline of masculine and male-dominated society. Most women, of course, have little concern about this area of male identity politics. All combined, it’s a minority issue that has been held up as a banner of culture war by a single sector of the reactionary ruling elite.

These kinds of social issues related to egalitarianism vs authoritarianism unsurprisingly tend to sync with political issues, specifically attitudes about democracy. A two-to-one majority says the popular vote, not the electoral college, should determine the presidency. Once again, Independents (68%) side with Democrats (86%), opposite of Republicans (39%), in demanding greater democracy and a more representative government such that all voters are treated as equal no matter where they live. There is some other demographic variance, but still the majority are in favor — whites and non-whites, men and women, young and old. Republicans, especially Fox News viewers, are the outlier in being absolutely opposed to equal rights and full self-governance for all other Americans, no matter their residence or skin color. The Ferengi are fighting against the democracy that most Americans want, and this has been useful for the reactionary ruling elite in both parties by using the Ferengi to distract from the majority’s demands for fair representation — one of the ways lesser evilism guarantees continuously greater evil. In a society claiming to be a representative democracy, what greater political evil is there than a conspiracy to attack and destroy any possibility of a free society of self-governance?

The fear of certain demographics being given a seat at the table has been largely motivated by racism and xenophobia. It’s similar to how the ruling elite manipulate many whites to oppose social programs that help whites out of fear that they will also help minorities. This has been slowly changing in mainstream society, a sign of hope. “Majorities of Americans,” reports PRRI, “say that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people (75%), Hispanic people (69%), and Asian people (55%). Far fewer say that there is a lot of discrimination against either Christians (37%) or white people (32%).” Fewer and fewer Americans, across most demographics, want to continue the scapegoating of minorities as the portrayed enemies of a sought-after white supremacy, ethno-nationalism, and Christian patriotism. Following the pattern of declining bigotry and xenophobia, this includes majorities, in this case large majorities, of Independents and Democrats; as opposed by the Ferengi, of course (Emma Green, Most American Christians Believe They’re Victims of Discrimination; Samuel L. Perry, Andrew L. Whitehead, & Joshua T. Davis, God’s Country in Black and Blue: How Christian Nationalism Shapes Americans’ Views about Police (Mis)treatment of Blacks).

A large number of Republicans (52%) also feel compelled to admit that blacks face major discrimination, even as they hold to self-serving identity politics in believing that white people (57%) and Christians (62%) are the most oppressed people in the world. It’s worse with those Republicans (27-36%) who, in trusting Fox News, don’t think any minorities at all have anything to complain about, in contrast to whites (58%) and Christians (73%) who are experiencing genocide. On a positive note, there is no religious group that believes whites are more discriminated against than blacks in broad terms, but those in the snowflake demographic of white evangelical Protestants (66%) do self-identify as the most victimized Americans. The Ferengi once again stand out as unique and atypical; and, in this case, even being distinct from other religious whites.

Continuing open support of bigotry and prejudice, for certain, can’t be blamed on whites in general: Not All Whites! Strong and overt white identity politics is largely limited to Republicans, Fox News viewers, and certain Christians, especially white evangelicals. But even combined, these people do not form anywhere close to a majority among whites. Most white Americans disagree with this strong racialized worldview. They may not see the prejudice as applying as much to Asians (47%), but most of them do very much think it is undeniable among Hispanics (61%) and blacks (67%), whereas it’s not so much for Christians (38%) and whites (39%). So, on this issue, maybe about one third of all white Americans are either part of the Ferengi or in alignment with the Ferengi. It’s a significant minority, but still relatively small for how loud their voice is amplified by the power structure of media and politics.

Victimhood politics holds little merit with the typical white. The same goes across the education spectrum, as both those with and without a college degree agree with other whites, if to varying degrees. As for the majority of minorities, they are maintaining solidarity in agreeing they all experience more prejudice as compared to whites and Christians. The last part stands out considering non-whites have higher religiosity rates than whites, and yet the prejudice they experience is not identified with their religion. That makes sense. No police officer ever killed a black guy because he was Christian and no ICE agent ever deported a Hispanic because they attended church too often.

By the way, the tipping point for public acknowledgment of systemic racism was clearly seen years ago, as shown in previous PRRI polling. “The most striking thing about the numbers is their uniformity. Between August 2013 and August 2014, Americans of all stripes — Democrats and Republicans, young people and old, Hispanics and whites — showed an increase in the belief that minorities are unfairly targeted. And while a majority of seniors and Republicans [i.e., old conservatives ~BDS] still think the two groups (whites and minorities) are treated equally, each category showed a significant uptick in the number who see racial bias as a systemic feature of the U.S. justice system” (Sophie Kleeman, How Ferguson Changed America for Good, in One Striking Chart). In general, the leftward trend appears to have been going on for centuries, if we only have polling data to show the specific demographic details across recent decades and generations.

In the US, this kind of thing is mostly a non-issue at this point. Besides the standard ultra-right demographics, the average white individual doesn’t feel threatened by racial/ethnic minorities and diversity. It’s a minority of white Americans (40%), if a sizable minority, including white Americans without a four-year college degree (46%), that thinks that increasing diversity always comes at a cost to whites. As with a third of Americans overall (34%), only 35% of Independents and 17% of Democrats agree with this assessment of racial politics as a zero-sum game. If the Ferengi view of American society ever was the moral majority, which is highly questionable, it certainly no longer is and hasn’t been so for a long time.

It should be noted that as early as the 1980s, during the Golden Age of the Reagan Republicans, it was known that the reactionary right-wing of fundies was not a majority, moral or otherwise. In fact, the very concept of a ‘Moral Majority’ was openly advocated and promoted as a defense against majoritarian rule and against democracy in general. Bill Moyers, in an interview with David Daley (Republicans Admit They Lose When Elections Are Fair and Free), said that,

I agreed with the Republican strategist, Ben Ginsberg, who said that David Daley has exposed, “The strategy of shadowy, but thus far, legal hacking, splicing, and dicing of congressional districts to secure Republican domination, and in turn, subvert the will of the American voter.”

That’s a Republican saying that. Admitting that gerrymandering was crucial to the Republican party’s strategy of undermining democracy. Some people were shocked, David. But I wasn’t. And I wanna take a step back here, I mean, back to 1980.

I was reporting for a documentary on the founding of the Moral Majority. Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them.

And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today. Here’s a brief excerpt of what he said. It brought cheers from  those religious conservatives.

Paul Weyrich: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This wasn’t anything new, not even in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan helped make conservatism respectable again, but he didn’t do it by winning majority support for hard right issues. His victory was rhetorical but highly effective, following the defanging of the once powerful political left by union busting, McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklisting, and FBI’s COINTELPRO; not to mention the propaganda and perception management campaign of the right-wing Shadow Network; along with the help of Richard Wirthlin. The conservative rule he established was an elitism in defiance of the American people. Republicans were able to take advantage of racist dog whistle politics and covert class war to divide the voting public, even though the American majority was in many ways even more economically progressive than it is now. Support for extremely high taxes was so strong that it was barely part of public debate prior to that shift.

Republican presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon, didn’t dare to speak a negative word about liberalism and would instead praise it. It was a consensus among the majority in both parties that liberalism was how governments should be run, as Ike once argued. Reagan switched this around by incorporating a progressive attitude and co-opting liberal rhetoric for the purpose of conservative ends. He couldn’t have won the election by having been honest with the American people, as they fundamentally didn’t want what he was selling. So, it had to be deceptively packaged with empty and vague rhetoric of ‘values’.

The strategy was devious (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Claus theory, Wirthlin Effect, etc), in weaponizing symbolic ideology that was divorced from operational ideology (Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels) — that is to say rhetoric usurped reality and so narrative framing, not public policy, became the driving force of American politics. It no longer mattered what most Americans wanted, and that became even more true with the rise of dark money and oligopolistic corporate media. The winning narrative became a potent, if toxic, identity politics — specifically white grievance and victimhood made virulent through an old racist, elitist, and supremacist narrative of ethno-nationalism and xenophobia, politicized class anxiety and racialized class war.

This rhetoric of reactionary backlash and right-wing populism, combined with anti-democratic tactics (voter role purges, precinct closures, gerrymandering, ex-con disenfranchhisement, etc), simultaneously inspired and empowered a specific minority, the Ferengi, while demoralizing and disenfranchising not only all other minorities (Blacks, Latinxs, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, social justice Christians, progressive Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, democratic socialists, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, etc) but also and, more importantly, the majority of potential voters.

When the political right talks about protecting the minority against the mobocracy of majoritarian oppression, they’re only referring to one specific minority, the Ferengi demographic overlap of viewers who trust Fox News, white Evangelicals, and partisan Republican voters — basically, a specific segment of mostly older whites raised on white privilege and rabid Cold War propaganda that they internalized as the core of their identity; although also including some former white liberals and progressives that were indoctrinated later in life by the right-wing media machine (Jen Senko, The Brainwashing Of My Dad; documentary and book). All other minorities, the Ferengi believe, should continue to be oppressed as they were in the past. Make America Great Again!

How bad is inequality?

Where the real debate is happening is whether racial inequality is tightly linked to economic inequality. Is a historical legacy of institutionalized and systemic racism, specifically the transgenerational effects of slavery and discrimination, from sundown towns to redlining, still contributing to a lack of economic opportunities for blacks? Is it holding many of them back from being able to work their way out of the racial caste of a permanent underclass? Americans in the past slightly leaned to answering ‘no’, but are now almost evenly split. With the shift continuing, the full acknowledgement of ongoing racial prejudice and oppression will be the majority position in the near future.

As with other issues, Republicans, Fox News viewers, and white Christians (i.e., the Ferengi) believe blacks are whiny and lazy losers who need to get over it, a culturally and/or genetically inferior sub-group that should passively submit to their deserved subjugation. These are the same people who think blacks shouldn’t be allowed to protest and so many of these concern trolls have started counter-protests to complain about blacks acting like they are equal to others when they demand to be treated as such. Independents did side more with Republicans in the past (62%, 2015), but have since (46%) moved toward Democrats (20%) with Democrats having likewise moved further left since five years ago (39%).

The same movement toward the ‘left’ has been happening with whites overall in following the example of Independents. So, most whites are forming a consensus with non-whites, which leaves the Ferengi ever more stranded in isolated extremism. Like the pressure building along a fault line, the realignment of public opinion will fully set into a new position with seismic tremors followed by a political earthquake. Even though building up slowly over generations and centuries, the final result will feel sudden and dramatic. The response by the Faceless Men will be ever more reactionary, likely involving increased violence. We will probably go through a period of right-wing hate crimes, terrorism, vigilantism, mob actions, insurrection, coups, etc before it settles back down into a new perceived social norm and established social order.

Where is the American public heading?

Most Americans are going left on most issues while a small minority on the right is often going further right, the latter particularly involving the symbolic ideology of reactionary identity politics. A polarization is happening but it’s between a growing majority on the left that is just now finding its voice and a shrinking minority on the right that is ever more isolated and radicalized, much of it having to do with who is and who is not caught in the right-wing news media bubble, social media echo chamber, and the political outrage machine. About continuing racial biases and disparities, it’s also polarization within religion such that non-white Christians, non-Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated (both non-white and white) are in opposition to a large sector of white Christians, particularly white evangelicals.

Now for a really divisive set of issues look at affirmative action and reparations. Slim but growing majorities support efforts to remedy racial bias and historical legacies in education and employment. It splits up, as expected in the mainstream narrative, with partisans on the two extreme ends and Independents closer to the middle. Also, blacks and Hispanics strongly favor such policies and practices, whereas whites are still slightly holding back their support but making strides in that direction. Quite likely, in the next decade if trends continue, the demand to help those disadvantaged and disenfranchised by transgenerational oppression will finally become a majority position for whites and a strong majority for the entire American public. That is to say a Scandinavian-style social democracy could become more probable or at least increased egalitarianism in general, although far from a predetermined outcome.

That brings us to another oft racialized issue, that of immigration. Most people think of it as a polarized topic in how it is used as a political football by politicians and gets used in dog whistle politics, but the reality is there is almost unanimous agreement across all of society. Even among Republicans, a large majority views immigrants as hardworking (79%) and as having strong family values (76%), along with a significant number acknowledging that immigrants make an effort to learn English (38%). The positive attitude toward immigrants is stronger among other demographics. Only a tiny minority disagrees about most immigrants being good people who contribute to their adoptive communities and potentially are a net gain for American society.

Generally speaking, Americans don’t see immigrants as a problem. They aren’t perceived as a cause of crime or disease in communities. Although divided in other areas involving immigration issues, there still isn’t an overwhelming majority who are drawn to scapegoat this population. Still, it is true that there is vociferous debate about whether or not immigrants burden local social services and compete for jobs, about which Americans are divided down the middle; and those are fair and reasonable concerns that can’t necessarily be reduced to mere bigotry. As before, it’s only Republicans with a clearly negative view of immigrants. Among Democrats and Independents, it’s some combination of positive and neutral, depending on what is being asked about.

Other than the Ferengi demographic of Republicans (57%), specifically those who trust Fox News (67%), few Americans (31%), Independents (28%) or Democrats (15%), and few whites (36%), Hispanics (24%) or blacks (24%) would agree that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” Only 51% of largely non-Ferengi Republicans who don’t trust Fox News go along with those who do trust it, and that is considering so many Republicans who distrust Fox News probably have left the party at this point. It’s as much a media divide as anything else, between right-wing media viewers and everyone else. But the divide on this topic probably would also be seen between white evangelicals and all others.

To be fair, there are also surprising divides emerging within demographics such as a significant minority of Hispanics, mostly groups like Cubans, having voted for Donald Trump (Natalie Jackson, Religion Divides Hispanic Opinion in the U.S., PRRI report). These intra-demographic divergent voters might have been larger in the second election. And, if so, this might have been partly motivated by his tough-on-immigration stance. To put it in historical context, even though the legal framing of immigration is a more recent invention by the political right, it must be admitted that public opinion on the topic goes in generational cycles following the pattern of increasing and decreasing immigration. With that in mind, one could note that immigration numbers these past couple of decades have been at a historical low point, which is probably why right-wing hysteria of moral panic hasn’t gained purchase in the public mind, beyond a few select demographics.

It goes on and on. Most Americans, including majorities of Americans in every major demographic mentioned but excluding Republicans and Fox News viewers (and possibly excluding white evangelicals), oppose building a border wall between the United States and Mexico (57%), oppose passing a law to prevent refugees from entering the country (62%), support immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children (i.e., Dreamers) to gain legal resident status (66%), and support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (64%). It’s mostly a non-issue, despite all the noise among a desperate elite attempting to ramp up the lingering support of the shrinking Ferengi fringe. Despite Fox News pushing a near-continuous anti-immigrant narrative, it just has no hold on the American mind; with probably even most casual Fox News viewers being largely indifferent.

On the last issue of a pathway to citizenship, Republicans distrusting Fox News support it and all religious groups also support it, and among opponents of citizenship there are those who would still support permanent residency status (16%). Most Americans, even including most Republicans, along with every religious group, oppose an immigration border policy that separates children from their parents and charges parents as criminals (76%). This is an issue that is a bit more divided for the Ferengi with many Republicans and white evangelicals siding with the majority, with the only exception being the Fox News faithful, demonstrating the power of corporate media as propaganda. The dividing line is not conservatives vs liberals, not right vs left, but those trusting Fox News vs all others. Fox News, possibly being replaced by Newsmax, has been the dark beating heart of the most extreme element within the reactionary Ferengi.

What is wrong and what is irrelevant?

Let’s wrap this up. Most Americans across most demographics agree that something is amiss in American society and governance, some kind of failure or corruption or decline, but this has not made them entirely cynical and hopeless. The majority does want the government to do more, as a Fox News poll shows, in such a way that would actually benefit the public good and help everyday Americans. This faith in a government that could and should do right by the American people remains steady, despite the fact that polls show the majority no longer trusts big government, along with no longer trusting big biz and big media. Lately, public trust in the military is likewise in decline, which is a real shocker in it having stood for so long as the last pillar of public trust.

Mistrust is not cynicism, fatalism, and apathy. The thing is Americans want a government in which to place their trust with politicians who will honestly and fairly represent them. American idealism may be on life support, but it’s still hanging on with tenacity. This faith in good governance toward the public good includes guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (83%), guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (70%), making college tuition-free at public institutions (63%), and a “Medicare for All” plan that would replace private health insurance with government-backed health insurance coverage for all Americans (62%). This is what Americans want and have wanted for a quite a while, much of this public support having developed during earlier administrations. It’s unfortunate that, in this banana republic, the political and media elite are so effective in suppressing this majority.

Certainly, it’s far from limited to a supposed radical left-wing fringe. Along with Democrats and Independents, Republicans support guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (95%, 85%, and 71%, respectively) and guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (88%, 69%, and 52%, respectively). But Republicans are mixed in what they support and what they oppose, and there is that ever present contrarian thorn in the side of the American public, that of Ferengi subset of Republicans under the sway of Fox News propaganda who always take the opposing position. It’s not that the Ferengi are more opposed to government but, rather, opposed to democratic governance that serves all Americans. Along with being reactionaries, they are hardcore right-wing authoritarians and social dominators.

Most Americans, other than Ferengis, have a common vision of the kind of society they want to live in and what they consider important. There is a strong sense that climate change poses a genuine threat that people fear will cause personal harm to themselves, their families, and communities (58%). Other polls show that most Americans want government to do more with stronger environmental regulations and protections. This isn’t abstract culture war bullshit but concrete threats in the real world and Americans fully appreciate what this could mean as it gets worse. Democrats and Independents of all races are in agreement. Many Republicans, outside of the Ferengi fringe, likewise agree. The same presumably would be true among self-identified conservatives, as seen in other data.

For still other issues, Americans show fairly strong and broad support. This is seen with once supposedly divisive culture war issue like the pro-choice position on abortion (60%), which is seen as perfectly fine even among majorities of the religious, the fundies aside. Most Americans think it should be legal in all or most cases. Many polls show this, including from Fox News — an ironic piece of data considering Fox News so heavily pushes this issue onto their viewers. Interestingly, previous PRRI data shows that immigration plays a role in shifting public opinion to the right, which is ironic in how native-born conservatives oppose the very immigrant groups that could bolster their numbers as a conservative movement. They might want to rethink that opposition considering that, though still a majority among Republicans, white Christians are in the minority for the first time in US history (Rachel Zoll, White Christians are now a minority of US population). Many Hispanics are also embracing the white identity, which could help maintain the ideological perception of white Christianity, although as Hispanics assimilate they become more liberal — so, a double-edged sword; maybe the Ferengi can’t win for losing. Here are the specifics from a 2018 PRRI poll:

“The largest divide is by place of birth. A majority (57%) of Hispanics born in the U.S. believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 36% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Among Hispanics born in Puerto Rico, 41% support abortion legality, compared to 53% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. By contrast, only 33% of Hispanics born outside of the U.S. say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while nearly six in ten (59%) say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Place of birth also stratifies age groups. More than six in ten (63%) young Hispanics ages 18-29 born in the United States support abortion, compared to just 38% of young Hispanics born outside of the United States. Among seniors ages 65 and over, 44% of U.S.-born Hispanics favor abortion legality, compared to just under one in three (31%) foreign-born Hispanic seniors” (The State of Abortion and Contraception Attitudes in All 50 States).

The same goes for LGBTQ rights, as seen in the PRRI data. The majority, including among the religious, is on board with allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally (70%) and in enacting laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing (83%). In fact, the American majority were in favor of same sex marriage years before even DNC leaders (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc) came out publicly in support, demonstrating it isn’t a liberal and intellectual elite leading the way or manipulating the masses with cultural Marxism or whatever other conspiracy fear-mongering that Machiavellian demagogues and social dominators obsess about in their rhetorical deceptions and manipulations.

Anyway, here is the demographic breakdown within the broad 70% support on the first of those issues: “Politically, the majority of Democrats (80%) and 50% of Republicans support same-sex marriage. Majorities of every major religious group support marriage equality, PRRI says. That includes support from 79% of white mainline Protestants, 78% of Hispanic Catholics, 72% of members of non-Christian religious groups, 68% of Hispanic Protestants, 67% of white Catholics, 57% of Black Protestants, and 56% of members of other Christian religious groups. The strongest opposition of same-sex marriage within religious communities comes from white evangelical Protestants, the study finds, with 63% opposing allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry” (Russell Falcon, American support for same-sex marriage is higher than ever, study finds). Once again, it’s within the Ferengi that minority opposition is found, and in this case even there it’s rather weak. The polarized divide is not within the general public nor between partisans but cleaving Republicans neatly in half. Give it a few years and the majority of Republicans will also be on board. It’s probably only Fox News and other heavily-funded right-wing media that is maintaining a countervailing force of resistance, without which the social liberal majority might already be absolute across all demographics.

Here is an important point. These issues are largely moot in the American mind, whatever may have been the case earlier last century. Few think there is anything meaningful left to be debated. Basic tolerance and equality, rights and protections are central to democracy and most Americans want democracy, specifically with a lean toward more direct democracy and social democracy. Hence, culture war issues are now non-issues. Yet somehow these ideological corpses are resurrected from the dead by a corporate media and political elite that trot them out on a regular basis, presumably as a distraction from the issues Americans actually do worry about. As far as the average American is concerned, such issues don’t determine their vote nor much affect their life. So, to respond to the naysayers and malcontented, just shut the fuck up about it. Do what the American people want or get out of the way, quit being authoritarian assholes, and let’s move onto what really matters. The age of tolerating intolerance is over, let us hope.

And what might we conclude?

Here is the main takeaway point, as shown with this and so many other polls/surveys. We Americans are not a divided people. We are not fundamentally polarized within the larger population or rather the only polarization involves the leftist majority of the democratic demos on one side and the reactionary fringe manipulated by the authoritarian elite on the other. Most Americans agree about most things, but this is a silenced and suppressed moral majority. The American people want some combination of representative democracy and self-governance, probably for the very reason we undeniably know it is lacking and experience it’s lack in our everyday lives. Most of what politicians do is severely out of alignment with what most Americans support and value, and political elites seem conveniently oblivious to this self-serving corruption or else cynically antagonistic to it. The media elite are equally clueless or devious, as the case may be (Eric Alterman, America is much less conservative than mainstream media believe). Sadly, this has has led to much mind-fuckery where Americans become disconnected from their own values, a gaslighting of the American soul — as Eric Alterman has written about:

“A significant part of the problem appears to lie with the inaccurate use of labels. Without a doubt, self-professed conservatives consistently outnumber liberals in polls when Americans are questioned about their respective ideological orientations. Politicians, pundits, and reporters tend to believe that this extends to their views on the issues. It doesn’t. In fact it represents little more than the extensive investments conservatives have made in demonizing the liberal label and associating it with one unflattering characteristic after another. I delved deeply into this phenomenon while researching my 2008 book titled Why We’re Liberals. In the book, I noted that as a result of a four-decade-long campaign of conservative calumny, together with some significant errors on liberals’ own part, the word “liberal,” as political scientist Drew Westen observed, implied to most Americans terms such as “elite, tax and spend, out of touch,” and “Massachusetts.” No wonder barely one in five Americans wished to associate himself or herself with the label, then as now. Yet at the very same time, detailed polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press demonstrated a decided trend toward increasingly “liberal” positions by almost any definition.”

We Americans are far left of the elite. They do not speak for us. They do not represent us. They do not act on our behalf. This has been proven beyond any doubt. See: Larry M. Bartels, Unequal Democracy; Martin Gilens, Affluence and Influence; Martin Gilens & Benjamin I. Page, Democracy in America?; Lawrence R. Jacobs & Benjamin I. Page, Who Influences U.S. Foreign Policy?; Jarron Bowman, Do the Affluent Override Average Americans?; Matt Grossmann & Zuhaib Mahmood, How the Rich Rule in American Foreign Policy; Shawn McGuire & Charles Delahunt, Predicting United States Policy Outcomes with Random Forests; Patrick Flavin, State Campaign Finance Laws and the Equality of Political Representation; etc. Yet the political theater of partisanship is trotted out each election for yet more punching left and lesser-evil voting.

How did it get this way? Consider the most important point. There is a single demographic, as repeatedly shown above, that is consistently far right on every issue and consistently in disagreement with the rest of the population. That demographic is partisan Republicans and Trumpian Republicans who are trusting of and indoctrinated by Fox News propaganda as aligned with an unprincipled religious right of white evangelicals that use politicized religion and symbolic religiosity (Trumpism After Trump? How Fox News Structures Republican Attitudes, PRRI report), as expressed through pseudo-populist demagoguery, social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and the Dark Tetrad (sociopathy, narcissism, sadism, & Machiavellianism); not to mention gun culture, militias, hate groups, hate crimes, and terrorism (e.g., decades of anti-choice violence). This isn’t a normal voting bloc but a militant movement seeking totalitarian power or rather manipulated by such ruthless and anti-democratic power-mongers, as seen with an aspiring strongmen like Donald Trump (and his Machiavellian sidekick Steven Bannon) who led an insurrectionist attack on the seat of government while president.

These Ferengi are opposite of Democrats, for sure, along with living on a different planet than most Americans. And they aren’t even like other Republicans, specifically not the disappearing moderate conservatives and civil libertarians, anti-fundamentalist Goldwater Republicans and anti-Bircher William F. Buckley Jr. Republicans, liberal-minded Eisenhower Republicans and laissez-faire Log Cabin Republicans; et cetera. But, maybe more importantly, they don’t slightly resemble the audiences of other corporate media; such as how those on the political left, as the data shows, tend to seek out a wider variety and more balanced selection of media sources (including right-wing media like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal). The rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio, along with the alt-right media funded by dark money, as a nationwide echo chamber and ideological reality tunnel, was an entirely new phenomenon in history. In implementing the propaganda model of news media, it is an outrage machine that is highly effective in manufacturing consent by altering opinion, perception, and identity.

Fox News has increasingly become the propaganda wing of the Republican Party, particularly since Donald Trump’s takeover but going back several decades. “According to the poll, 55% of Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news say there is nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. This contrasts with only 29% Republicans who do not cite Fox News as their primary source of news who say the same.” (Rosie Perper, Fox News is part of the reason many Republicans don’t support impeaching Trump, a new poll reveals). Heck, even lacking college education doesn’t make one as dogmatically partisan as being brainwashed by right-wing media, in how mindless groupthink of the lesser educated still remains below majority level: “45% of Republicans who do not have a college degree say there is virtually nothing Trump could do to lose their support, compared to 35% of college-educated Republicans who say the same” (Fractured Nation: Widening Partisan Polarization and Key Issues in 2020 Presidential Elections). Watching Fox News is apparently the ideological equivalent to being reborn in the blood of Christ: “Virtually all Republican white evangelical Protestants (99%) and Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news (98%) oppose Trump being impeached and removed from office.” White evangelicalism, as the most extremist strain of white Christianity, does seem to be key.

“While the PRRI poll found that 77% of white evangelical Protestants approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing in office, only 54% of white mainline Protestants and 48% of white Catholics approve of his job performance. There are also divides along racial lines: 72% of Hispanic Catholics and 86% of black Protestants disapprove of Mr. Trump’s job performance. There is also widespread disagreement over whether Mr. Trump has encouraged white supremacist violence while in office. Seventy percent of white evangelical Protestants, 51% of white mainline Protestants, and 46% of white Catholics say that Mr. Trump has not had an impact on white supremacist groups, according to the PRRI poll. However, 78% of black Protestants say that Mr. Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups” (Grace Segers, 99% of Republican white evangelical Protestants oppose impeaching and removing Trump, new poll finds). Racism, unsurprisingly, remains a schism in American Christianity and, as has always been true in American history, it largely falls along racial lines. Yet this schism is shrinking in the population overall, as even non-evangelical whites slowly but steadily turn away from America’s racist past.

This points to a central problem for the GOP and their Ferengi base. ““While White evangelical Protestants have declined as a proportion of the population over the last decade, from 21 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2019, they have maintained an outsize presence at the ballot box, somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of voters,” [Robert P. Jones, head of PRRI] said. He described this as a “time machine,” whereby the White evangelical Christians’ outsize vote “has the effect of turning back the demographic clock by nearly a decade. In other words, we’re living in the demographic realities of 2020, but our elections are being conducted, demographically speaking, in 2012 America.” […] White evangelical Protestants are the backbone of the GOP, but their geographic concentration and population decline mean Republicans are living on borrowed time” (Jennifer Rubin, Opinion: What the election tells us about religion in America). About Trump’s “underlying political bet he is imposing on the GOP,” it has been noted that, “Comparing the election results in 2018 with those in 2016, [political scientist Brian Schaffner’s] research found that House Republican candidates lost more ground among voters who agree that racism and sexism remain problems than they gained among those who do not” (Ronald Brownstein, The partisan chasm over ‘systemic racism’ is on full display).

That isn’t promising as a winning strategy heading into the demographically uncertain future. As the old pillars of conservatism can no longer be depended upon because of societal shifts, the right-wing elite will be forced to ever more turn to right-wing media machines to manufacture consent and rile support or otherwise demoralize the majority, disenfranchise voters, and undermine democracy. Public opinion and public policy might now be drastically further to the left, if not for the authoritarian influence of weaponized media and concentrated wealth, not to mention the destabilizing and anxiety-inducing high inequality. Yet no matter how large is the audience, Republican viewers of Fox News are a small percentage of the total population, as Fox News has proven with their own polling in showing how far left is the American majority. So, why does this miniscule minority have such an outsized influence in being treated as equal to the vast majority on the opposite side of public opinion? Why do the supposed ‘liberal’ Democrats and the supposed ‘liberal’ media figures accept this framing of false equivalency that silences not only most Americans in general but also most Democrats, Independents, and those portrayed on the political ‘left’? Why does all of the corporate media play along with this false narrative that is implemented as social control in disenfranchising the majority, even most genuine centrists, moderate conservatives, and principled libertarians?

However we answer that line of questioning, just for a moment imagine what the United States would be like without reactionary media, without endless outrage and fear-mongering. Imagine if Fox News politics wasn’t the dominant model of propaganda for an oligarchic rule. Imagine if all of the corporate media was broken up to the extent that most media was once again locally owned and operated or at least much smaller scale and diverse. Imagine if all big money was removed from politics, all legal bribery was made illegal, all corporate lobbyists were frozen out of public decision-making. Imagine if public opinion mattered, if the moral majority was not silenced and suppressed, if government actually represented the American People. Otherwise, what is the point of all this public polling? If and when we the American public realize we are the majority and far to the left of the elite, then what? Maybe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. The revolution has already happened in the public mind. Now all that remains is to follow through to where it leads.

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More on PRRI polling:

Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America

According to a Fox News poll, the majority of Americans have become radicalized extremists, Marxist commies, and fellow travelers! They might also be postmodern moral relativists or even eco-terrorists, but at the very least they are woke snowflakes pushing political correctness and reverse racism. They probably hate God and liberty too. Worse still, one might suspect more than a few of them are antifa, probably lacking an appreciation that a fascist police state is what made America great and will make it great again.

Fox News Voter Analysis – 2020 Presidential Election
In partnership with Associated Press
Based on surveys by NORC at the University of Chicago
29,000 people, all fifty states, October 26 and November 3

  • 60% believe government should do more
  • 72% concerned about “climate change”
  • 70% favor increased government spending on green and renewable energy
  • 78% see racism as serious issue in U.S. society
  • 73% see racism as serious issue in policing
  • 77% think criminal system needs reform: complete overhaul (22%), major changes (46%), or minor changes (29%)
  • 72% agree “illegal immigrants” should have pathway to citizenship
  • 60% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases
  • 71% support the pro-choice Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade
  • 3% said abortion most important issue facing country
  • 51% want to leave as is or expand Affordable Care Act / Obamacare
  • 72% want “government-run healthcare plan” as Medicare for all
  • 55% think gun laws need to be more strict

Going by this and other data, we are forced to conclude that the average American is far to the ‘left’ of not only the GOP elite but also the DNC elite. The DNC elite is more concerned with punching ‘left’ and punching down in order to keep democratic activists, community organizers, and populist leaders out of power than to win elections and give Americans what they want. Most Americans, for example, stated support for same sex marriage years before it was backed by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, the supposed leaders of ‘liberalism’. The DNC elite will only follow behind long after issues have become safe and even then maybe not.

We the People will have to lead ourselves in the march toward political reform, legal justice, civil rights, economic freedom, democratic self-governance, and social progress. But, first, the American public will need to have a populist awakening to the harsh reality that they are the silenced majority and that the corrupt one-party state has become radicalized toward the opposite extreme of corporatocracy, soft fascism (increasingly not-so-soft), and inverted totalitarianism. With polls like this, the suppression and silencing of the American public hopefully won’t last much longer, if and when a populist identity emerges.

The culture wars, in particular, are in decline. It’s not only same sex marriage. Abortion is non-issue for most Americans based on broad support for women’s right. Even for white Evangelicals, abortion is no longer a top issue. And young Evangelicals are increasingly identifying with the ‘progressive’ label, cutting across ideological and partisan divides. “Generally speaking, however, evangelicals ranked traditionally progressive or Democratic causes as more important than traditionally conservative or Republican ones. […] Almost 60-percent said they favored a more progressive evangelical agenda focused more on protecting the environment, tackling HIV/AIDs, and alleviating poverty and less on abortion and homosexuality” (Beliefnet Poll: Evangelicals Still Conservative, But Defy Issue Stereotypes; also see Who Are the American Religious?).

The narrative of civil rights, freedom of choice, and compassionate concern has defeated the narrative of patriarchal paternalism, theocratic control, and moralizing superiority. Few Americans perceive abortion as ‘killing babies’. The culture wars were a carryover from the Cold War era where social issues were used as a blunt instrument of punishment and oppression, such as the McCarthyist fear-mongering of the Lavender Scare where openly gay people had their careers ended and lives destroyed.

But now more than half the population has no memory of the Cold War ideological wars and weren’t bottle-fed on Cold War propaganda. The rhetoric has lost its potency, even for many older Americans, as we move further along in this new century with shifting priorities, concerns, and fears; along with the return of economic populism and old school progressivism. Commie paranoia holds little purchase for the ordinary person when facing concrete threats to life and livelihood such as climate change with droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and historic windstorms, combined with a pandemic. The once powerful redbaiting may still get airtime on right-wing media, but fewer and fewer Americans are swayed by it, as instead large and growing numbers of demographics embrace the ‘socialist’ label. When you keep calling widely and wildly popular policies ‘socialist’, all that is accomplished is getting more Americans to identify accordingly.

Give citizens no other choice than between failed ‘capitalist’ healthcare ruled by a corporatist oligopoly and popular ‘socialist’ healthcare run by the government, most will take socialism gladly and with open arms (In fact, “Every single swing-seat House Democrat who endorsed #MedicareForAll won re-election or is on track to win re-election. Every. Single. One,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; also see: Kenny Stancil, As Centrist House Democrats Attack Medicare for All, Fox News Poll Shows 72% of Voters Want ‘Government-Run Healthcare Plan’). It’s the same basic reason that, when given a narrowly constrained option of either abortion bans or freedom of choice, Americans generally find the latter far more attractive. These forced choices of black-and-white frames were effective in the past as a divide-and-conquer tactic, but over time the rhetoric loses its manipulative force. Americans stop reacting in the way intended, especially as public trust is lost toward the elite pushing this rhetoric. If an ever worsening corrupt plutocracy doesn’t want us — we the People — to have a functioning social democracy and free society, that is all the more reason it becomes attractive.

This is exacerbated as economic issues come to the fore. It’s one thing to give up freedom and self-governance as the price paid for economic comfort and security, as was the deal the plutocrats offered during World War II and heading into the Cold War when public good and shared sacrifice was held up as a societal ideal with a common enemy that was perceived as threatening the “American Way of Life”. But political oppression combined with economic oppression is all take without any gain for us commoners. All boats have not been floating and that harsh reality is getting harder to ignore. The American Dream may require people to be asleep, and the American people may have been fine with remaining asleep during economic good times, but now it’s become a nightmare. This has unsurprisingly led to populist outrage.

Social conservatism used as a political football only works when people are economically comfortable in a society with a middle class that is large, growing, and stable as based on a prosperous society where most of the population gets cheap housing, subsidized higher education, declining inequality, high employment, lifetime job security, affordable healthcare, great employment benefits, and generous pensions. For older Americans, that was the world they grew up in. Even inner city minorites, prior to deindustrialization in the 1960s, were lifted up by decades of good factory jobs that created a minority middle class in communities with low-crime and, because of progressive taxation that heavily taxed the rich, reasonably well-funded public schools.

Look at the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He didn’t campaign on culture war or even redbaiting. He promised to bring back jobs, protect the American economy, stop undocumented immigration (that is used by by big biz to drive down wages, bust unions, and weaken the bargaining power of workers), and spend millions to rebuild the national infrastructure. This was not merely economic populism. Following Steve Bannon’s wise/conniving advice, Trump invoked the old school progressivism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. As the Democrats abandoned and betrayed the working class, Republicans like Ronald Reagan and Trump found it easy to pick off the very voters in communities that once were labor union strongholds.

The American public didn’t go ‘right’ in being drawn toward populism. No, it was the Democratic Party that embraced class war, if hidden behind identity politics (in turning toward plutocratic elitism, big biz socialism, and soft fascism with corporate deregulation, banking deregulation, media deregulation, racist crime bill, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, etc). On economic issues in particular, Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden are more blatantly and effectively corporatocratic than Donald Trump. Consider Social Security. Trump reassured his supporters that he would never touch it, would never cut it or try to privatize it. Biden, on the other hand, has threatened for decades that he wants to defund Social Security. Some voters have stated that they chose Trump specifically because they feared Biden would take away their Social Security. It gets hard to distinguish between supposedly progressive fiscal liberals and reactionary fiscal conservatives.

Also, a surprising number of minorities voted for Trump; in fact, a larger number this election than last. Even with Trump’s ugly racism, these minorities saw Trump as a viable option in challenging the corporatist oligarchy that has become identified with the Clinton Democrats as the defenders of the status quo. That is a hard-hitting rebuke. Biden barely won an election against the least popular incumbent in U.S. history during a combined economic and pandemic crisis. The DNC elite has zero public mandate. If the corporate stranglehold didn’t keep third parties silenced in the ‘mainstream’ media and shut out of the political debates, a third party candidate might have easily won this election or the last. But that won’t be allowed to happen. We the People, we the liberal and progressive public, we the true moral majority will have to force change from the bottom up.

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The 2020 Election as a Triumph for Democracy? Hold the Hosannas
Even high voter turnouts mask the reality of that “affluent authoritarianism” that now governs America.

by Sam Pizzigati

Gilens and Page, for instance, locate real influence over public policy within the ranks of the most affluent 10 percent, but suggest that opinions in this top tenth most probably reflect attitudes within the ranks of the top 1 or 2 percent.

McGuire and Delahunt go further. Their research moves our focus from what our richest have on their minds to what they’re doing with what they have in their wallets. They see “the transfer of large amounts of money to policy makers from the wealthiest sources focused intensely on particular policies” as the “lodestar variable” for understanding how our policy makers make policy.

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Videos and articles about this Fox News Voter Analysis:

Fox News reporting on its own poll:

Related posts from this blog:

In other news from recent voting results… This election wasn’t exactly a strong win for the Democratic Party, as they won’t have control outside of the presidency. So, they certainly didn’t gain a crushing victory they could have portrayed as representing a public mandate. But the political left more generally made progress, particularly at the local level.

Increased Diversity In Politics:

Sen. Kamala Harris is officially the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American person to be elected vice president of the United States.” (Li Zhou, Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman to become vice president)

“A new group of Black progressives has officially been elected to Congress. […] Even before the general election on November 3, four progressives in Democratic districts were all but assured spots in the US House of Representatives: Cori Bush from Missouri along with Jones, Jamaal Bowman, and Ritchie Torres — all who will represent districts in New York City. Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia is also advancing to a January runoff for one of the state’s US Senate seats.” (Ella Nilsen, A new generation of Black progressives has been elected to Congress)

“In an incredible turnout of pro-equality voters, Americans across the country elected at least eight out transgender people to office during yesterday’s election.” (Human Riights Campaign, Meet the Transgender Americans Who Won on Election Day)

“Fourteen of the 35 gay, bisexual and transgender candidates who ran for office in Texas during the midterms claimed victory Tuesday night — a 40 percent success rate in deep-red Texas — and national and state activists say they’re confident this election cycle carved a path for a future “rainbow wave” in Texas. The historic number of Texas candidates who ran for offices from governordown to city council positions joined a record-shattering rank of more than 400 LGBTQ individuals on national midterm ballots this year.” (Hannah Wiley, In Texas, the “rainbow wave” outpaces the blue one)

“There will be a record number of women in the next U.S. Congress when it convenes on Jan. 3, 2021. That’s a tabulation from the Center for American Women and Politics. At least 131 women will serve in 117th Congress, with another 25 races featuring women still too close to call as of early Friday morning. CAWP says 100 of the women elected so far are Democrats and 31 are Republicans. In the House, at least 106 women will serve (83 Democrat and 23 Republican), beating the previous record of 102 in 2019. That includes 43 women of color, all but one of whom are Democrat. On the Senate side, at least 24 women will be part of the next Congress. It could be 25 if Sen. Kelly Loeffler wins her Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia. […] Republicans will have 13 freshman House members who are women, a record for that party, with nine races yet to call. Fourteen undecided House races are featuring Democratic women. Eight have already been elected to next year’s freshman class.” (Travis Pittman, Record number of women elected to Congress)

Americans Contemplating The Possibility Of Functioning Democracy:

“Alaska and Massachusetts both have major voting reforms on the ballot this year, including whether to use ranked-choice voting in future elections. […] Missouri voters have a chance to make changes to their state’s elections as well, with Amendment 3, which would limit campaign contributions to state Senate candidates and prohibit state lawmakers and their staff from accepting gifts from lobbyists.” (Live results: Ballot initiatives on democracy reform)

Social Democracy And Democratic Socialism Is On The Rise:

“But demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism, pop­u­lar­ized by near-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.), had a much bet­ter night. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA), an orga­ni­za­tion that boasts near­ly 80,000 mem­bers nation­wide, endorsed 29 can­di­dates and 11 bal­lot ini­tia­tives, win­ning 20 and 8 respec­tive­ly. There are now demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist cau­cus­es in 15 state­hous­es, includ­ing Mon­tana. […]

“Plen­ty of pro­gres­sive can­di­dates also lost, but most can­di­dates nation­al­ly endorsed by DSA sailed through. And while it’s true that many of them had tough pri­ma­ry bat­tles and less dif­fi­cult elec­tions on Tues­day, they still won as DSA mem­bers. All four mem­bers of ​“The Squad” — a pro­gres­sive bloc in Con­gress that includes Demo­c­ra­t­ic Reps. Rashi­da Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayan­na Press­ley (Mass.) — were reelect­ed to the House. (Tlaib and Oca­sio-Cortez are DSA mem­bers and endorsed by the orga­ni­za­tion.) Pro­gres­sives also added two more DSA-endorsed mem­bers to their squad: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep.-elect Jamaal Bow­man in New York, and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep.-elect Cori Bush, the first ever Black Con­gress­woman in Missouri.

“Now, thanks to DSA mem­bers across the coun­try, there is a social­ist in Austin City Coun­cil and in both the Rhode Island and Mon­tana State Hous­es. In Penn­syl­va­nia, there are three social­ists who are almost cer­tain­ly head­ed to the leg­is­la­ture in Har­ris­burg. Social­ists in Boul­der, Col­orado worked along­side the ACLU to win a bal­lot mea­sure that guar­an­tees no evic­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and DSA mem­bers part­nered with the labor unions AFSCME and SEIU to pass Preschool for All in Mult­nom­ah Coun­ty, Ore­gon. And in both Flori­da and Port­land, Maine, bal­lot ini­tia­tives for a $15 min­i­mum wage passed. 

“While it’s clear that most DSA vic­to­ries have been in big cities or more lib­er­al states thus far, it’s impor­tant that we don’t dis­count the incred­i­ble orga­niz­ing hap­pen­ing in the South and in rur­al areas. (Mar­qui­ta Brad­shaw ran a DSA-backed cam­paign for Sen­ate in Ten­nessee but lost; Kim Roney, endorsed by her DSA chap­ter, won a seat on the Asheville City Council.)

“And while the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty is loath to give DSA any encour­age­ment, DSA mem­ber Tlaib may have helped to secure Biden’s vic­to­ry in Michi­gan by help­ing to mas­sive­ly increase vot­er turnout from 2016.” (Mindy Isser, What Democrats Should Learn From the Spate of Socialist Wins on Election Day)

Puerto Ricans Demand Decolonization:

“Puerto Ricans have again voted in favor of making their island home a US state and they’re hoping that, this time around, their decision will carry actual weight. Puerto Rico, which has been a US territory for 122 years and is the world’s oldest colony, has held five previous non-binding referendums on the issue. In 2012 and 2017, the island’s 3 million citizens overwhelmingly backed statehood, but Congress never took further action to admit Puerto Rico into the union.” (Nicole Narea, Puerto Ricans have voted in favor of statehood. Now it’s up to Congress.)

Revocation Of Memorializing Historical Racism:

“Mississippians have voted in favor of the ballot initiative Measure 3 and will replace their controversial state flag with a new one, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. The new flag, named the “In God We Trust” flag, will put to rest a decades-long debate over the flag that the state used for 126 years, which features a Confederate emblem. The new design was commissioned and approved by the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, set up by the state legislature after the body voted to do away with the old flag. It prominently features a magnolia flower — the state flower — encircled by 20 white stars, a nod to Mississippi’s status as the 20th state to join the US. A larger yellow star sits directly above the flower to represent the Choctaw origins of the state, and all the icons sit on a dark blue and red striped background.” (Fabiola Cineas, Mississippi says goodbye to Confederate emblem and adopts a new state flag)

Rejection Of War On Drugs Across Country:

“In every state where a ballot measure asked Americans to reconsider the drug war, voters sided with reformers. In ArizonaMontanaNew Jersey, and South Dakota, voters legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. In Mississippi and South Dakota (separate from the full legalization measure), voters legalized medical marijuana. In Oregon, voters decriminalized — but not legalized — all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Also in Oregon, voters legalized the use of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug found in magic mushrooms, for supervised therapeutic uses. In Washington, DC, voters in effect decriminalized psychedelic plants, following the lead of several other cities.” (German Lopez, Election Day was a major rejection of the war on drugs)

Police Reform – Downsizing Police, Defunding Police And Funding Alternatives:

“Los Angeles voters have approved Measure J, also known as “Reimagine LA County,” which requires that 10 percent of the city’s unrestricted general funds — estimated between $360 million and $900 million per year — be invested in social services and alternatives to incarceration, not prisons and policing.” (Roger Karma, Los Angeles voters just delivered a huge win for the defund the police movement)

“San Francisco voters have decided to do away with a longtime police staffing law that required the police department to maintain at least 1,971 full-time officers on its force, with their approval of Proposition E, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Now, the strength of the city’s police force will be governed by a police commission tasked with regularly evaluating police staffing levels.” (Fabiola Cineas, San Francisco hasn’t defunded its police force yet — but just voted to make it smaller)

Healthcare Reform Remains A Winner:

“Highlighting an interesting—and to many, instructive—electoral trend that others have spotted in the days since 2020 voting ended earlier this week, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday—just as jubilation spread nationwide among Democrats and progressives upon news that Joe Biden will be the next U.S. President—pointed out that every single congressional member this year who ran for reelection while supporting Medicare for All won (or was on their way to winning) their respective race.” (Jon Queally, ‘Every. Single. One.’: Ocasio-Cortez Notes Every Democrat Who Backed Medicare for All Won Reelection in 2020)

Abortion Restriction Voted Down:

“Colorado voters just rejected a measure that would have banned abortion in the state after 22 weeks’ gestation, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. […] Abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy are rare, with nearly 99 percent of abortions happening before 22 weeks’ gestation. But a small percentage of patients seek abortion later in pregnancy, sometimes because of severe fetal abnormalities that can only be diagnosed at that time. Proposition 115 did not have an exception for such abnormalities, or for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person, allowing abortion only if it was “immediately required to save the life of a pregnant woman.” That could mean providers would have to wait until a patient was actually dying to terminate a pregnancy” (Anna North, Colorado voters reject 22-week ban on abortion)

First State In The South Passes $15 Minimum Wage:

“In the 2020 election, Florida voted 60-40 in favor of Amendment 2, a ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by September 30, 2026, even as it also voted to keep President Donald Trump in office. […] “Across the board, it is not necessarily a left or right issue. Voters across the aisle actually know that it is impossible in Florida and around the country [to] actually survive on $8.56 and what the current minimum wage is,” Allynn Umel, national organizing director of the Fight for $15, a group that advocates for a $15 minimum wage and a union, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.” (Emily Stewart, The lesson Democrats should take from Florida’s $15 minimum wage vote)

Universal Preschool And Teachers Pay Raised:

“Advocates of universal preschool just scored a key local victory, with Multnomah County, Oregon — which includes the city of Portland — approving a ballot measure supporters called Preschool for All, according to OregonLive and Portland Monthly. The initiative, also known as Measure 26-214, will provide tuition-free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents want it, while also raising the pay of preschool teachers. The county will pay for the program with a tax on high-income residents.” (Anna North, What this Oregon county’s “preschool for all” victory means for child care in America)

Renewable Energy Goals In Nevada State Constitution:

“As was widely expected, Nevada voters approved Question 6 on the ballot, which amends the state constitution to mandate that the Nevada’s electricity providers shift to at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press.” (David Roberts, Nevada voters seal renewable energy goals in their state constitution)

Most Americans Pleasantly Surprised System Hasn’t Collapsed Yet

“How well are things going in the country today: very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?”

That is from a CNN poll. I enjoy looking at polling data. But I must admit a question like this perplexes me. What does this question even mean? What is it specifically asking about? What is being referred to by ‘things’? What was the context in which it was asked? Were there questions that preceded it and framed it?

Here is the breakdown of responses:
Very well 13%
Fairly well 45%
Pretty badly 28%
Very badly 12%

This question has been asked by CNN going back to 2005. When the options of “very well” and “fairly well” are combined, that is a majority of Americans who generally consider ‘things’ to be doing ‘well’. That percentage is higher than it has been in all those years of polling. Even before the 2008 Great Recession, it wasn’t quite that high.

Obviously, most people asked this question weren’t thinking of the president, congress, etc which get low favorable ratings in public opinion. These ratings are at historical lows. Other polling doesn’t make clear that it is about the economy either. The U.S. population is about evenly split over the economy being better now than a year ago. But even that is hard to interpret considering about half the population is unemployed or underemployed. A large part of the population is in poverty or close to it. This is probably how most people think about the economy, as personal experience and not abstract data.

Inequality continues to rise, housing and healthcare and education costs are higher than ever, wages continue to stagnate, few Americans have any retirement savings or even enough money to pay for a major emergency, job security is an endangered species, and good benefits are no longer included as part of the American Dream. Plus, personal and national debt keeps on growing, big banks that were too big to fail that they were bailed out to avoid financial collapse are now even bigger, new kinds of monopoly-like corporations are forming within multiple markets, and related to high inequality a number of serious thinkers including President Jimmy Carter have stated that the United States is now a banana republic.

It probably shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise that the economy is doing slightly less worse or maintaining expected levels of crappiness. In this context, doing well might simply mean that the situation is tolerable enough to not yet incite mass revolt and possibly revolution.

Furthermore, even though supported by many, most Americans don’t think Trump’s tax cut will personally benefit them. As for the future, the population is split three ways about the economy getting better, remaining the same, or getting worse (causing one to wonder, since some of those who support the tax cut apparently don’t believe it will improve the economy for either themselves or other people). The conclusion of things doing well is far from being a straightforward appraisal of confident hope or satisfied contentment.

To consider other areas, I can’t imagine that the majority of the polled believe that U.S. foreign policy is doing well. The war on terror drags on with growing conflict or worsening relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other countries. Nuclear threats abound and have received much media attention. And the specter of nuclear war and possibly world war looms in the background. The U.S. military is stuck in permanent occupation of numerous parts of the world. Worse still, the U.S. has never been this hated and mistrusted on the world stage in living memory. Many Americans are feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and defensive about their country’s standing in world opinion.

On a more direct level for Americans, it is clear to everyone that the country is more divided than ever, especially along class and generational lines. For multiple reasons, there are high levels of stress in our society that have been erupting in acts of mass violence and, more generally, has caused a spike in such things as mental illness. Also, there is an opioid epidemic and mortality rates are worsening for multiple demographics: the middle aged, rural whites, rural women, etc. Inequality is growing and everyone knows it, and it is slowly sinking in that inequality is and always was about far more than merely the economy. Big biz, especially big banks, gets about as low of ratings as seen in public polling as does big gov. The favorable ratings of capitalism are quickly dropping while the favorable ratings of socialism are on the rise.

Americans don’t seem particularly optimistic at the moment. Maybe public opinion has to be interpreted as a relative perception in any given moment. Asking people how well things are is asking them how well is it compared to how badly things have been. And maybe the only thing implied in the polling is that many Americans don’t believe or don’t want to believe that it is going to get even worse. It could be that it feels like we are finally bottoming out as a nation and that this is as bad as it can get. If nothing else, Donald Trump as president demonstrates that a complete idiot can be the leader without all of it entirely collapsing, at least not immediately.

I guess some people find it reassuring that the teetering ramshackle of a system somehow miraculously manages to hold together. Maybe, just maybe we will make it. Then again, most of those who state things are doing well could be older Americans who assume that the consequences and costs will be delayed long enough that they will never have to deal with them. It’s not their problem, even as they helped to cause it. Let the young clean up the mess.

Or it could more simply be standard denial without much if any clear thought about where it is all heading. As long as the social order more or less remains intact for the moment, the general mood is that we are doing as well as can be expected under present dire circumstances. Most Americans unlikely want to think beyond that. Whatever it takes to avoid paralyzing despair, that seems to be the prevailing mindset. It’s as good of an interpretation as any other.

* * *

Giving it one more thought, I realized the explanation could be even simpler than any of those above speculations. It could be so simple as to be boring. Let me share the most down-to-earth possibility.

It might come down to timing. The responses are snapshot at a particular moment. It might not even represent public opinion from earlier in the year or public opinion a short while later. All responses came between the second and fifth of this month, a three day period. Whatever happened to be in the news cycle at that moment might have influenced the answer chosen. So, what was going on at the beginning of this month? One of the biggest events widely reported in the news during the prior week and into the polling period was the peace declared between North Korea and South Korea. President Trump, of course, took all credit for it. And, only a few days before CNN did their polling, a crowd of his fans chanted ‘Nobel’ indicating that they thought he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was a somewhat random event in terms of when it happened. But, as I argued elsewhere, Trump did deserve some credit. He has been so unpredictably crazy that South Koreans, in their own public polling last year, admitted they feared the United States more than they feared North Korea. Whether or not most other Americans wanted to give Trump credit, it would be taken as a positive result to many Americans. For more than a half century, the corporate media as the propaganda wing of the U.S. government has never tired of fear-mongering about North Korea. Any lessening of that fear, even if only momentary, would feel like a relief to many Americans.

That is the one thing that comes to mind in what has been in the news lately. It does coincide perfectly when the question was asked. The only other big thing going on was the investigation into the Russians and the Trump administration. But that has been going on so long that most Americans are now ignoring it as so much hype and noise. Disregarding the investigation and instead considering the Korean peace talk, that would explain a lot. If the question had been asked weeks or months earlier or the Korean peace talk had happened later, it’s possible the poll results would have been skewed the other direction.

The only way such a poll question could be meaningful is if it was asked multiple times throughout the year and maybe averaged out across the entire year or across a president’s entire time in office. But I doubt CNN is all that interested in meaningful results. Such polls aren’t intended to be analyzed in depth. They are just interesting tidbits of data for a news company to throw out. Public polling, after all, offers corporate media a semblance of legitimacy while being a thousand times cheaper to do than investigative journalism. And poll results are easier to put into a short piece with a catchy title, such as in this case: “CNN Poll: Trump approval steady amid rising outlook for the country“. Anything that will attract viewers and advertising dollars.

Evil, Socially Explained

Here is one of the most interesting public poll results I’ve seen in a long time.

President Trump called the mass killings in Las Vegas last week “an act of pure evil” when many of his opponents were trying to blame the guns involved instead. Americans strongly agree that there is evil in this world but tend to believe society, not the individual, is to blame.

It is from Rasmussen Reports, Most Recognize Evil But Question If Some Are Born That Way. Two things stand out.

First of all, this is a left-wing perspective on environmental and societal influences on the individual. Even mainstream liberals, specifically of the economically comfortable liberal class, don’t tend to be this forgiving of individuals. That is why leftists can be as critical of liberals as of conservatives, as the two share a common worldview of post-Enlightenment individualism (in their preference of the egoic theory of mind over the bundle theory of mind).

The other thing is the source itself. Rasmussen is known for having a conservative bias. And that is in the context that no major polling organization has a reputation of left-wing bias. In general, polling organizations tend to be mainstream in their biases, which is to say they are more or less in line with prevailing ideology and the dominant paradigm. One would not expect any mainstream poll in the United States to put the thumb on the scale toward a left-wing worldview.

This is further evidence of the American public shifting left, even as the establishment shifts right. This puts public opinion more in line with the social sciences, especially anthropology, the most left-leaning of the sciences.

Non-Identifying Environmentalists And Liberals

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying as environmentalists is about half of what it was a quarter century ago, when I was a young teenager. Yet the other polls show that Americans are more concerned with environmental issues than ever before.

This is similar to how fewer Americans identify as liberal precisely during this time when polls showing majority of Americans hold liberal positions on diverse issues. Older labels have lost their former meaning. They no longer resonate.

It isn’t as if Americans are becoming anti-environmentalist conservatives. Quite the opposite. It’s just that an increasing number of Americans, when given a choice, would rather identify as progressive, moderate, independent, or even socialist. In fact, the socialist label gets more favorable opinion than the Tea Party label, although libertarianism is gaining favor.

Young Americans are the most liberal of any age demographic, in terms of their politics. They are more liberal than even the supposed liberal class, despite the young not self-identifying as liberal. They are so liberal as to be leaning leftist.

Conservatives are mistaken when they put too much stock in ideological labels and too little stock in substance of views. Their confusion is understandable. Many pollsters have had a hard time keeping up with changing labels, not initially realizing they needed to offer choices beyond the standard binary of liberal or conservative.

Not all of this can be blamed on pollsters, though. There was enough polling data to show major shifts were afoot. Some pollsters were able to discern that Millennials had a majority positive opinion of the ‘socialism’. That interesting fact of public opinion began showing up about a decade ago, but apparently few in the mainstream were paying attention until Sanders’ candidacy came along.

The older generations are shocked. As children of Cold War propaganda, they unsurprisingly have a knee jerk reaction to the word ‘socialism’. More interesting is that these older Americans also dislike libertarianism. For the young, socialism and libertarianism are two expressions of their growing extremes of liberal-mindedness.

So, it’s more of a divide of generations than of ideology.

Central to this are environmental concerns. Most older Americans probably assume they will die before major environmental catastrophes happen, allowing them to shut these problems out of their minds and pretend they aren’t fully real. Younger Americans, on the other hand, realize they’ll be forced to deal with these problems they’re inheriting.

* * *

Americans’ Identification as “Environmentalists” Down to 42%

Americans’ Concerns About Water Pollution Edge Up

U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High

For First Time, Majority in U.S. Oppose Nuclear Energy

Opposition to Fracking Mounts in the U.S.

In U.S., 73% Now Prioritize Alternative Energy Over Oil, Gas

Youth and Country

Corey Robin has a post about changes in politics, public opinion, and generations. Someone brought up a good point in the comment section:

I’d be careful not to overestimate the importance of individual self-report surveys as a way to gauge ideological drift. People are liable to say all sorts of stupid, poorly thought-out, and frankly incorrect things about their own beliefs depending on how a question is phrased and what positions they have the ideological language to articulate, which is especially pertinent when the questions are a simple yea/nay to ideological labels like “liberal”, “conservative”, or “socialist”. US discourse in particular has a long history of hollowing out such labels and filling them with meanings that would be all but unrecognizable in any serious intellectual context, e.g. how many people even among readers of your blog wouldn’t necessarily be aware that “liberalism” and “socialism” are traditionally considered mutually exclusive?

If there’s any of these “ideological label yea/nay” questions I’d consider potentially important, it’s the extent to which people are willing to explicitly reject patriotism and identify as citizens of the world — most other “leftist” commitments can be subverted fairly easily by appealing to nationalist solidarity against some group of foreigners or another, especially the ones who are allegedly “stealing our jobs”. But I’d want to see some more data before concluding that internationalism among young Americans is more robust and widespread today than back in the era of “Imagine there’s no countries…” and so on.

I’m feeling too lazy to analyze it at the moment, but it does make me curious. In lieu of my own thoughts on the matter, here is some polling data and analysis:

















Who Are the American Religious?

I was looking at polling data for the religious. Just minor curiosity, on this Sunday morning.

Like the rest of the population, the overall US trend is toward progressivism and liberalism (I wonder what the trend is in other countries and across the world). One poll from Beliefnet was done in 2008.

Beliefnet Poll: Evangelicals Still Conservative, But Defy Issue Stereotypes

It’s probably a little out of date, as the results of demographic shifts are quickly changing and becoming more apparent. In the intervening years, progressives have increased among Evangelicals, although many others have left Evangelicalism. More broadly, religious progressives now outnumber religious conservatives.

Anyway, what interested me was the following section from the above link:

“In some ways, the survey reveals evangelicals to be quite conservative: 41-percent said they were Republican compared to 30-percent who were Democrats; 47-percent said they were conservative versus 14-percent who said they were liberal. Almost 80-percent said they attended church weekly or more than weekly and 84% said the Bible is the “inerrant word of God.”

“Generally speaking, however, evangelicals ranked traditionally progressive or Democratic causes as more important than traditionally conservative or Republican ones. Twenty three percent said their views had become less positive about Republicans, twice the number who said they’d soured on Democrats, though half of respondents said they had become less positive about both parties. Almost 60-percent said they favored a more progressive evangelical agenda focused more on protecting the environment, tackling HIV/AIDs, and alleviating poverty and less on abortion and homosexuality.”

That mirrors the same confusion of labeling confusion as found in the general population. This weird phenomenon creates problems in interpretation. It is rare to see the self-identification data clearly compared and contrasted with public opinion data.

Still, this is far from an unknown social reality, as far as it concerns academic researchers.

Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities
by John T. Jost, Christopher M. Federico, & Jaime L. Napier

“Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).”

It interested me to see this same type of thing in the religious polling. But it isn’t surprising. Confusion abounds, especially when it comes to politics on the left.

By the way, the following are links to some of the data on changes in the religious demographic(s), especially among the younger generations. I’ve seen much of this data over the years. There is a shift that has been happening for a long time. It’s nothing new, but it’s good to keep in mind.

Survey | Generations at Odds: The Millennial Generation and the Future of Gay and Lesbian Rights

Young Evangelicals in the 2012 Elections
by Sojourners

Are Millennials Killing Off the Religious Right?
by Amanda Marcotte

More than half of evangelicals oppose cutting government funds for poor, survey shows
by Electa Draper

Survey shows diversity in political opinion among mainline Protestant clergy
by Mary Frances Schjonberg

Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage
And the Bible isn’t getting in their way.
by Jim Hinch

Young U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality
by Michael Lipka

Millennial Christians Are More Socially Progressive Than You Might Expect, Shattering Some Conservative Stereotypes
by Emma Cueto

Why Pope Francis is Polling The World’s Catholics
by Jack Jenkins

If Vatican conservatives are so afraid of gay rights, young Catholics aren’t going to wait around
by Zach Stafford

Young Christians Are Fleeing Evangelicalism—And Here’s Why
by Eleanor J. Bader

Politico: Catholic Republicans Have a Pope Problem
by Courtney Coren

Poll: Americans Prefer Gay President To Evangelical Christian
by Alan

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation
by CNN


Republicans, Who They Are and Where They Are Heading

I love looking at demographic and polling data. It can bring up insights that one would otherwise not have considered. Public Policy Polling put out a release that broke down Republican opinion. I highly recommend looking at the data for yourself.

Some reporting on it has focused on the gender divide. Republican men are more motivated by fiscal issues. And Republican women are more motivated by social issues. That leads to the odd results of Republican women being stronger supporters of Christian theocracy in America, despite the obvious fact that would harm women the most. Fortunately, female Republicans are a smaller proportion of the GOP.

One sad part of the data is the age component. Younger Republicans aren’t becoming more liberal. What the data doesn’t show is that the younger cohort in general is becoming more liberal, and they are also less supportive of the Republican Party. What is happening is that the few young folk left remaining in the Republican Party are the most extreme elements. Basically, there are almost no moderate young Republicans left. Moderate Republicans have been disappearing for a long time, but we are about ready to declare them finally extinct.

Considering this, I wonder what the Republican Party will look like 10 to 20 years from now. They are at a crises point. The party has been mostly some combination of older people, whites, and men. Obviously, it can’t stay that way. As the few remaining young reactionaries push the party even further toward radical right-wing politics, a choice will have to be made. If they continue down that path, they will become obsolete.

The Court of Public Opinion: Part 2

Part 2: Offline Sources

In Part 1, I offered the results of web searches. I was mostly interested in the answers given to public polls and scientific surveys. I did include some analysis as well, but this post will focus more on that aspect. So, I’ve turned to the books I own in order to gain more context, about the data itself as well as about the political and historical background.

I’ll highlight one issue. It is a chicken or the egg scenario.

The political elites are fairly clueless about the views of the general public, including their own constituents. At the same time, the average American is clueless about what those in government are actually doing. This disconnection is what one expects from a society built on a class-based hierarchy with growing extremes of inequality. In countries that have lower inequality, there is far less disconnection between political elites and the citizenry.

It isn’t clear who is leading who. How could politicians simply be doing what the public wants when they don’t know what the public wants? So, what impact does public opinion even have? There is strong evidence that public opinion might simply be following elite opinion and reacting to the rhetoric heard on the MSM.

Populations are easily manipulated by propaganda, as history shows. That seems to be the case with the United States as well.

As such, it isn’t clear how punitive most Americans actually are. When given more and better information, when given more and better options, most Americans tend to focus away from straightforward punitive policies. Imagine what the public might support if we ever had an open and honest debate based on the facts.

From Books: Data and Analysis

Inequality & Violence in the United States: Casualties of Capitalism
By Barbara H. Chasin

Kindle Locations 319-367

Owners of the media have the power to decide the content of what we see. Violence and action are very appealing to producers. Media analyst and critic George Gerbner, former dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, is convinced that economic motives explain much media content. Violence, he claims, is a “good commodity for the global market.” It “travels well, you don’t need to trans- late.”36 In other words, violent entertainment can be more easily exported. Grunts, yells, and moans can be understood in many languages. There is no need to deal with possibly delicate issues of sex or politics, and humor is often culture-bound.

The managers of the media decide how we will be entertained and what information we will have. In chapters 4 and 5 we will be discussing the power of corporate executives, but here we will look at one aspect of that power as part of our discussion of the relationship between the media and violence. Media executives are at the top of what sociologist C. Wright Mills termed the “cultural apparatus,” where information, interpretations of reality, and entertainment are produced and distributed.37

The media focuses much more attention on street crime than on the more harmful corporate wrongdoing. A report issued by Arizona State University’s School of Justice, “Confronting Violent Crime in Arizona,” claims, “Corporate crimes, which are not only prevalent but physically dangerous, even deadly, receive little attention and may not be covered as crime at all, but rather as a business matter.” In 1999 media critic Morton Mintz asked the chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division, James Robinson, the following question: “How often have you seen or heard of a newspaper editorial or column … or talking head criticizing grave corporate crime or misconduct?” Robinson answered, “I can’t remember the most recent occasion.”39

Since the media is both interlocked with major corporations and is also dependent on them for advertising, their reluctance to criticize corporate practices is understandable. Emphasizing street crime over business crime is useful to political figures as well. As George Gerbner points out, “Fear of the mean world is politically exploitable.” As we shall see, politicians are not very likely to offer constituents protection from corporate malfeasance, but they do claim they can lessen the harm from other forms of violence.

Journalists engage in self-censorship, a way of protecting their jobs. The Pew Center for the People and the Press polled 287 news personnel in 2000. One-third of those surveyed said they would not report on news that might be harmful to the financial interests of their media outlet or advertisers. Sixty-one percent of investigative reporters believed that corporations influenced what was reported as news. In the same year another study was conducted by the Project on Excellence in Journalism. Here also one-third of TV news directors admitted that they had been asked to either promote positive stories about their advertisers or, at least, stay away from negative ones.39

Television news is dominated by crime stories in the belief that this will increase ratings. The motto of television news producers seems to be “if it bleeds, it leads”; “a lurid crime report with a high body count will … become the lead story, no matter how insignificant its actual news value.” Media commentators sometimes use the phrase “body-bag journalism” to convey how news programming aims toward the sensational.40

Television crime coverage does not reflect actual crime rates, according to the media-watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). From January 1989 to January 1992, the three major networks spent an average of “67 minutes a month on crime stories.” In the period from October 1993 to January 1994, they were spending over 157 minutes a month on this topic. In the six months between June and November of 1993, media stories of violent crime went up by 400 percent.41

If you watched television news in the New York area between 1996 and 1997, you would not know that homicide rates had declined. The director of the city’s CBS station, Bill Carey, remarked, “The fact that percentages are down doesn’t affect our coverage.” Joseph Agnotti, a communications professor at the University of Miami, himself a former executive at NBC news, studied local news programs in eight cities in 1997. His research team discovered that about one-third of local news was devoted to crimes. Agnotti had an explanation: “It’s the easiest, cheapest, laziest news to cover because all they do is listen to the police radio, react to it … and put it on the air.” The team also found that in some of the cities studied the highest ratings were going to stations with the least amount of crime news.42

In Los Angeles researchers sampled thirty-five hours of news coverage on local TV, finding that crime stories made up “23 percent to 54 percent of all news coverage.” It was news presented as entertainment with little analysis. Much less attention was given to upcoming elections in California. “Of 2,059 minutes of news, just over eight minutes concerned the gubernatorial primary.”43

Television news has been found by sociologists to have an especially strong impact on viewers’ fear of crime. In 1994 Ted Chircos, Sarah Escholz, and Marc Gertz surveyed 2,092 people living in Tallahassee, Florida, at the peak of a media frenzy about violent crime. Listening to television and radio news was significantly related to having a higher level of fear, with white women being the group most likely to be afraid, even though this is a category with a relatively low rate of victimization. The researchers hypothesized that the women were identifying with the victims who were more likely to be white and female than either male or non- white.44 Nonwhite young males are the most likely, in fact, to be victims of violent street crime.

In January 1994 U.S. News and World Report had a cover story on crime, claiming crime has been increasing since 1960, a distortion of the data. Crime rates have gone up and down in that thirty-four-year period.41 Time magazine’s August 23, 1994, cover story was “America the Violent,” with a subheading noting, “crime is spreading and patience is running out.” The bright red cover had a lurid illustration of a sinister-looking young man, with a frightening inhuman face glaring out, not a well-dressed executive with a briefcase. Inside, the reader was told that people are in danger doing the ordinary things of life: going to the hospital, a fast-food restaurant, or the shopping mall.

A Los Angeles Times survey reported that 65 percent of respondents got their information about crime from the media.46 Between June 1993 and February 1994 the percentage of those telling Washington Post pollsters that crime was the most important issue facing the country rose from 5 to 31 percent.47 National survey data also showed a steep rise in the general feeling that crime is the most important problem in the nation. Between January 1993 and January 1994 the percentage of respondents identifying crime as the most important problem in the country rose from 9 percent to 37 percent, a 400 percent increase, but not a reflection of any similar increase in crime rates.48

Sociologist Barry Glassner thinks many Americans have excessive fears of things that won’t harm most of them while being far less aware of the real dangers confronting many. He calls this a “culture of fear,” noting:

We often fear the wrong things…. One of the paradoxes of a culture of fear is that serious problems remain widely ignored even though they give rise to precisely the dangers that the populace most abhors. Poverty, for example, correlates strongly with child abuse, crime, and drug abuse. Income inequality is also associated with adverse outcomes for society as a whole. The larger the gap between rich and poor in a society, the higher its overall death rates from heart disease, cancer, and murder.49

These are issues less likely to be attention-grabbing items.

While a careful reading of the media can provide useful information, there is much that is missing or distorted in the analysis we get from newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. For instance, the relationships between corporate goals and resources, political decisions, and the conditions that give rise to interpersonal violence are rarely discussed. The media also do not often report on collective efforts that have helped solve social problems, and they rarely give information on how problems have been alleviated and the quality of life improved in other countries.50

* * * *

Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse
By Todd R. Clear

Kindle Locations 1019-1036

But during that same time, public concern about crime also began to grow. By the late 1960s, there began to be the earliest glimmers of a tough-on-crime movement in many areas of the country, and in fact, crime concerns became a national theme during the second Nixon presidential campaign (1972). For a brief period in the 1970s, a consensus of conservative and liberal intellectuals argued that the “rehabilitation” era of penology had failed and that the proper purpose of prisons was to punish those who broke the law. There was a difference of opinion about the value of prisons for anything else, however. It is hard to believe today, but at the outset of the 1970s, the Left was excited about the growing irrelevance of prisons in crime policy (American Friends Service Committee 1971). Meanwhile, the Right was convinced that prisons were a central weapon in the War on Crime (van den Haag 1975; Wilson, 1975). They agreed that the next step in penal policy should treat prisons as primarily an instrument of punishment.

In those years, there came to be a hard edge to public sentiment about crime. Crime rates began to rise in the 1960s and continued their rise throughout the 1970s. Public opinion polls consistently found that crime was at or near the top of people’s worries about the country (Flanagan and Longmire, 1996). This concern about crime also served as a symbol for other, less easily voiced worries about civil-rights unrest, antiwar disturbances, and bubbling reaction to the underlying principles of the welfare state and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. In the public mind, the social fabric of American society had broken down and disorder and disruption were rampant. A strong response—law and order—was required.

Public debate was accompanied by political action. Predictably, the action started where consensus was greatest, so by the end of the 1970s, seven states had abolished parole release—sometimes for everyone and sometimes for people convicted of certain “serious” crimes—by establishing a “presumptive” sentence to be served (minus good time). For the most part, public debate about these laws lacked any defenders of the status quo, and debaters differed only in the degree to which the sentences should get longer.

Kindle Locations 2077-2089

Sociologist Robert Crutchfield has been interested in the way social conditions, such as labor markets, affect attitudes toward society and community, especially social cohesion and trust as building blocks for social capital (see Crutchfield and Pitchford 1997). Recently Crutchfield (2005) investigated the impact of concentrated levels of young men in reentry on the attitudes of neighbors who had not been to prison. In a survey of residents of Seattle, Washington, Crutchfield asked respondents a series of questions regarding their attitudes toward the legitimacy of the law and the belief in authority—questions tapping social cohesion and trust. He found that in neighborhoods where there are high rates of young men returning from prison, overall social cohesion and trust are affected: in “neighborhoods with relatively large concentrations of former prisoners and, by extension . . . communities with more churning of people into and out of the prison system . . . [the negative attitude] in those places that we ordinarily attribute to economic disadvantage is due in part to sentencing patterns and correctional policies” (2004). This disrespect of formal institutions portends badly for community safety, as earlier work has shown that individuals whose jobs hold no future have less of a stake in conformity and are more likely to engage in criminal activity (Crutchfield and Pitchford 1997). In similar research in New York City, Tyler and Fagan (2005) show that people in the neighborhoods where incarceration rates are highest tend to view the police as unfair and disrespectful, corroding their views of the legitimacy of policing and broader governmental authority, and in turn signaling their withdrawal from social regulation and political life.

* * * *

Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration
By Devah Pager

Kindle Locations 2114-2124

7. J. H. Lipschultz and M. L. Hilt, Crime and Local Television News: Dramatic, Breaking, and Live from the Scene (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002). Coverage of violent crime, in particular, is often sharply disconnected from actual crime trends. As the murder rate fell by roughly 40 percent during the 1990s, for example, the number of murder stories on NBC, ABC, and CBS evening news shows increased by more than 600 percent. This increase does not include stories related to the O. J. Simpson case. Author’s calculations based on data from the Center for Media and Public Affairs; see also Joseph F. Sheley and Cindy D. Ashkins, “Crime, Crime News, and Crime Views,” Public Opinion Quarterly 45, no. 4 (1981): 492-506; and D. A. Graber, Crime News and the Public (New York: Praeger, 1980). Media distortions notwithstanding, trends in public opinion did respond to falling crime rates. The percentage of Americans who ranked crime/violence as the number-one problem facing the country peaked in 1994 and then declined during the late 1990s. Likewise, between 1992 and 1999, a decreasing proportion of Americans believed that there had been more crime in the United States that year than in the year before. Nevertheless, the percentage ranking crime/violence as the number-one problem facing the country in 1999 (17 percent), after a decade of falling crime rates, was far higher than it had been at the start of the decade (1 percent), and more than half of all Americans in 1999 continued to believe that there had been more crime in the United States that year than in the year before. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Source book of Criminal justice Statistics (2003), tables 2.1, 2.33; see also Katherine Beckett, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press,1997), 17-20, for a striking analysis of public opinion about crime and drugs during the preceding decades.

* * * *

Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs
By Doris Marie Provine

Kindle Locations 1467-1508

The Media and the Message about Crack

Crack cocaine proved the key to rekindling public interest in tough punishments for illicit drugs. Public concern about illicit drugs had stayed at a low ebb in the early years of the Reagan administration, despite the president and Nancy Reagan’s efforts to focus public attention on the issue (Jensen, Gerber, and Babcock 1991, 655-56). In 1985 and through most of 1986, Gallup public opinion surveys rated drugs a distant fourth among all problems facing the nation (Gallup Institute 1986). Crack, though on the streets in some large cities, was largely unknown to the American public. This changed dramatically in the spring of 1986 after the cocaine-related deaths of two celebrity athletes: Len Bias, a University of Maryland basketball star who had just signed a contract with the Boston Celtics, and Don Rogers, a member of the Cleveland Browns who died the day before he was to be married. Crack was initially blamed for their powder-induced fatalities.

Orcutt and Turner (1993) describe an unprecedented “media epidemic” of coverage in 1986 that began with the deaths of Bias and Rogers. In July, the three networks offered seventy-four evening news segments on drugs, half about crack. In the three months before the 1986 election, there were one thousand stories discussing crack. Fifteen million viewers watched a CBS documentary on crack in the fall of 1986, the highest on record for a news documentary. The competition for audience spawned other primetime and news programs. NBC, for example, produced four hundred separate stories devoted to crack. Newsweek called it the biggest story since Vietnam and Watergate, describing crack as “the most addictive drug known to man,” while Time made crack its issue of the year in 1986 (Szalavitz 1999; see generally Reeves and Campbell 1994, 162-83). Several media outlets ran stories suggesting a pandemic of crack use. Public concern about drugs rose in tandem with media coverage (Shoemaker, Wanta, and Leggett 1989, 77-79). Buried in all the attention devoted to crack were a few dissenting voices who suggested that the extent of the recent wave of drug abuse had been seriously exaggerated (Reinarman and Levine 1988, 252). For the most part, however, and in keeping with previous drug wars, there was a lack of critical attention to the actual incidence of crack abuse and to the reliability of the government sources on which the media depended for its stories.

The crack issue returned to the airwaves in 1988, another election year. In April 1988, ABC described crack as “a plague that was eating away at the fabric of America” (Reinarman and Levine 1995, 153). The Washington Post ran 1,565 stories on the drug crisis between October 1988 and October 1989. News coverage, as in the past, typically framed the issue of drug abuse in terms that promoted a criminal justice response (Beckett and Sasson 1998,3o; Reeves and Campbell 1994). The tone grew increasingly moralistic and dramatic over time. News stories included many misleading and inaccurate claims about an “epidemic” of drug use, about crack as a violence-inducing drug, and about pathetic “crack babies” destined to struggle with addiction. The principal theme-that immoral, mostly nonwhite users and dealers were laying siege to middle-class white America-resonated with earlier anti-drug rhetoric and supported the government’s expansionist, law-enforcement approach (Beckett and Sasson 1998,30-33).

Reeves and Campbell looked at 27o news reports broadcasted on the major networks between 1981 and 1988. They found a “cocaine narrative” that spoke menacingly of the drug’s dangers. Cocaine was presented as a pollutant, threatening the purity of vulnerable groups, particularly children, teenagers, and mothers. Important segments of the economy were deemed at risk in these portrayals, especially professional sports and college campuses. Hollywood was infected and might spread its infatuation with drugs more broadly (1994, 15, 19). These news reports, Reeves and Campbell showed, were also clearly raced: “Perhaps the central finding of this study is the disparity in news treatment of `white offenders’ and `black delinquents.’ … Whites were generally depicted as `repentant deviants’ while blacks were often branded as `enemy’ or `contesting deviants”‘ (1994, 42).

The Federal Role in Fomenting Fear of Crack Cocaine

Federal officials actively encouraged the media to focus on crack, but they also benefited from its own fascination with this new threat. The National Institute for Drug Abuse carried out an active campaign in 1986 to “increase public awareness” of the drug problem, offering public service announcements, numerous news releases, and “ride alongs” on federal drug busts. The New York representative of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Robert Stutman, gave hundreds of interviews to encourage media interest. He recalls: “I began a lobbying effort and I used the media. The media were only too willing to cooperate, because as far as the New York media was concerned, crack was the hottest combat reporting story to come along since the end of the Vietnam War” (quoted in Beckett 1997, 56). All of the major networks followed the reports of these agencies closely in their news programs (Reeves and Campbell 1994, 165).

Katherine Beckett demonstrated the extent of government influence on media coverage of drug issues in the Reagan period by analyzing “interpretative packages” in television stories between 1982 and 1991. Each of these packages has a set of “signature issues” that identify it, and a core frame that makes the package coherent, such as “zero tolerance,” or “need more resources,” or “get the traffickers.” She found that most drug stories had their basis in government information, such as footage provided by law-enforcement organizations. These stories tended to be more favorable to escalating the effort than those produced through private sources:

The ascendance of the discourse of law and order in the news … was largely a consequence of officials’ capacity to call attention to and frame discussions of the crime and drug issues. Conservative politicians and law enforcement personnel were particularly successful in defining themselves as the relevant “authorities” on the crime and drug issues. (1997, 65-76,77)

Government officials, including the president, went as far as staging events to promote the idea that crack posed an imminent threat to the nation. To gain support for his $7.8 billion National Drug Control Strategy, newly elected President George H. W. Bush, in his first national television address in September 1989, dramatically held up a bag of crack that he claimed had been bought in Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House. The clear implication was that crack could be bought anywhere: “It’s turning our cities into battle zones, and it’s murdering our children” (George Bush Presidential Library and Museum). The truth was that federal agents had been unsuccessful in finding anyone in the Lafayette Park selling crack. They resorted to luring eighteen-year-old Keith Timothy Jackson there to make the sale with a promise of $2,400 and with a DEA agent driving him there. The staged sale required two attempts because of initial difficulties with the filming (Lusane 1991, 66-67; and see Elwood 1994, 41; Reinarman and Levine 1997, 23). The strategy was nevertheless successful. Shortly after President Bush’s speech, 64 percent of those responding to a New York Times/CBS News poll labeled drugs the nation’s most important problem. In January 1985, only i percent had held that opinion (Reinarman and Levine 1995,156; Jensen and Gerber 1998, 20).

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Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy
By Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen

Kindle Locations 1244-1262

Changing criminal justice policy has a political foundation. The character and perception of public opinion about crime and punishment is one important component. Figure 4.8 graphs an open-ended question that has been asked of poll respondents every month since the early 196os: What, in their opinion, is the “most important problem facing the nation”?-‘l The remarkable volatility in the importance of crime to the public is a puzzle. Compared to macroeconomic indicators, for example, crime rates are relatively stable from month to month or year to year, yet public concern shifts-often violently-over short periods of time. As Katherine Beckett and others have pointed out, fear of crime appears to be uniquely responsive to mobilization by political leaders.21’ The rapid spike in concern with crime and violence from 5 percent in 1992 to 37 percent in 1994, for example, tracks the fanfare surrounding public debates of President Clinton’s crime bill of that year. Similarly, public concern over drug use as the nation’s most important problem rose rapidly in the late 198os to a peak of 27 percent (and even in one month, September 1989, reaching an astonishing 64 percent after a major speech by President George H. W. Bush). But it diminished rapidly thereafter, to just 6 percent by 1993 and negligible proportions more recently.29

Analysts of crime politics have usually focused on the role of the mass media in shaping fears and influencing public support for harsh punishment practices. The nightly news programs aggressively cover crime stories, exaggerating the problem and feeding public fears. And widespread media depictions of the race of offenders are thus particularly important in the overall s tory and in magnifying public fears. Although African Americans may commit proportionately more crimes than whites, media coverage vastly exaggerates the extent to which blacks are the perpetrators. A political and cultural model that incorporates race is likely the best explanation for rising levels of criminal punishment in the United States.30

One piece of evidence supporting media impact can be seen in the difference between fears of crime in general versus fears of crime in one’s own community. We learn about the nation’s (or a state’s, or a metropolitan area’s) crime problem from the mass media, but we “know” our neighborhood’s crime problem from lived experience. Unlike the sharp peaks shown in the “most important problem” nationally, fear of crime in one’s own neighborhood has been far more stable over the past three decades. We can see this in figure 4.9, which plots an indicator from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey against the rate of serious Index Crimes reported in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Fear of neighborhood crime tracks the reported crime rate far better than public opinion indicators such as the “most important problem.” People are far more likely to perceive a worsening crime rate in the nation as a whole than to perceive a worsening crime rate in their own neighborhoods. In sum, most Americans do not fear crime in their immediate environment but do fear it elsewhere. Even more striking, there is some evidence that reported experiences with crime in people’s own neighborhoods actually tracks the aggregate crime rate rather closely, trending downward sharply in the 1990s.

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The main evidence of strong public support for punitive policies comes from repeated survey items asked since the 196os and 1970s. Three items have been tracked the most consistently-and have been the most widely cited-in support of the view that the public has become more punitive: (i) support for the death penalty; (2) beliefs that courts do not treat criminals harshly enough; and (3) beliefs that the government spends too little on crime. Figure 9.1 charts the trends on these three items.

Overall, support for these items follows a common trend. Public punitiveness steadily increased from the i96os through 1980, fluctuated at high levels through the 198os, but has declined since the early 199os. The increase in the 1970s parallels the beginnings of the incarceration boom, but what is striking is that ever-higher levels of punishment from the mid-19706 to the 199os did not lead the public to withdraw support for more punitive measures. It was not until the 199os that support began to fall. To account for this anomaly, one public opinion researcher has suggested the metaphor of a “broken thermostat”: public support for harsh punishment failed to decline even though policymakers repeatedly delivered such policies.

The master trends represented in figure 9.1 have framed the debate over criminal justice policy. The predominant interpretation of public opinion in these debates has typically been that the public wants even more and stricter punishment. But there are at least two reasons to be cautious about such an interpretation. First, and most obviously, since the mid-199os public support for two of the three measures (harshness and spending) has declined to levels not seen since the early 1970s (with support for the death penalty declining as well, but not nearly as far). The “broken thermostat” metaphor was therefore more appropriate a decade ago than it is today.

Second, the most plausible interpretation of the source of these trends is that political elites have shaped public attitudes, rather than the other way around.4

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The mere fact that the public responded to the anti-crime agenda with support for tougher sanctions is in itself significant. Trends in public opinion gain meaning when political elites “read” them as reflecting a desire for some policy direction, in this case greater punishment. Yet the widely shared view of public support for harsh criminal justice policies may be a product of narrow opinion measures that fail to capture the complexity of public attitudes in this area. For example, what happens when survey respondents are given more choices, or are allowed to express more than one preference? A variety of experiment-based survey research suggests that the views of the public on criminal justice are much more complex, and less one-dimensional, than is suggested by the narrow range of items in figure 9.1.

Consider attitudes about the death penalty. While most Americans support the death penalty, this support drops drastically when respondents are presented with the alternative of life in prison without the possibility of parole.” Similarly, support for long prison terms is reduced when community-based alternatives are presented as a sentencing option, especially for nonviolent offenders.’ And when given the opportunity to express multidimensional preferences, many survey respondents report wanting both to incapacitate offenders and to rehabilitate them., None of this means that punitive views are not strongly held in the mass public, but experimental survey designs reveal a far more complex portrait than is commonly supposed. Rather than a clear consensus in favor of harshness, public opinion in the area of criminal justice is better characterized as multidimensional and subject to issue-framing effects.

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A sophisticated public opinion literature has criticized the view that policy preferences of most citizens are measurable in meaningful ways by opinion polls and surveys. According to this argument, people have notably low levels of information about policy issues, leading them to guess in response to survey research questions. Such responses are thus characterized as “non-attitudes,” in the famous formulation of political scientist Philip Converse.’

The existence of non- or weakly held attitudes may be precisely the aspect of public opinion that permits easy manipulation by elites. In this view, “public opinion surveys present only a rough idea of what people generally think because the results are highly sensitive to a number of factors…. Polls may even create the impression of public opinion on questions in which none actually exists. “‘8

But a countermovement in public opinion research has challenged these conclusions. One response is that it is the ambiguities of the questions, or the complexities of the issues, rather than non-attitudes, that produce respondent instability.”’ Political scientist John Zaller’s powerful theoretical model of survey response claims that people sample among the different possible answers they have in their heads in responding to surveys. The likelihood of any particular response is based on the relative strength of the different possible answers known to the respondent. This explains response inconsistency, but also implies that polls convey meaningful information, where the latter is accordingly subject to the framing of questions and to the contingent nature of individuals’ short-term memory and information level.'” The second, increasingly influential individual-level response has been to show how citizens are capable of reasoning through cues and heuristics of various sorts, even in the absence of detailed information or policy understandings.” The introduction of cognitive psychology into survey research has produced a massive literature showing how survey respondents can-at least sometimes-provide meaningful answers even when they have to guess. Finally, at the macro level, political scientists Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro argue that even if some individuals guess in response to survey questions, examination of aggregate responses provides a systematic means of filtering out response instability and non- attitudes.22

It is important to consider at the outset the possibility that surveys may be measuring non-attitudes in the case of felon disenfranchisement. Most survey respondents will know very little about felon voting rights. In responding to survey questions, they may thus be doing exactly what Converse suggested: guessing. On the other hand, since questions about felon disenfranchisement tap sentiments concerning issues of democracy and crime, survey responses may instead reflect considerations about which most respondents do have real opinions. Felon disenfranchisement questions may thus provide, particularly in the aggregate, a plausible portrait of Americans’ reasoning and policy evaluations of this issue.

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Daedalus 139:3 (Summer 2010) – On Mass Incarceration
By Charles Loeffler, Robert J. Sampson, Jeffrey Fagan, Candace Kruttschnitt, Loic Wacquant, Marie Gottschalk, Bruce Western, Glenn C. Loury, and Becky Pettit

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Based on the research of Graham and Lowery, conscious bias is not a significant producer of racial disparity either, but subconscious bias may be, as well as racial differences in punitiveness and racial stereotypes. Sociologist Lawrence Bobo and Victor Thompson, for example, summarize public opinion research to show that negative racial stereotypes, antiblack affect, and collective racial resentments translate into increased punitiveness.60 We have no reason to believe that this might not apply to probation workers and police officers who produce a supply of cases for the juvenile court. Research on “colorism” shows that both African Americans and white Americans associate skin tone with criminality and deserved punishment.61 In a series of tests on implicit bias, every population group except African Americans unconsciously associates “African American” with crime or danger and reacts accordingly.62 Tests include recognition of African American faces in crime situations (including possession of weapons)63 and whether to shoot unarmed suspects when they are shown holding ambiguous objects other than guns.64 Confirming what Bridges and Steen and Graham and Lowery reported, the Plant and Peruche tests given to police officers produced the same results.

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Mounting fiscal pressures on their own will not spur communities, states, and the federal government to empty jails and prisons. The race to incarcerate began in the 1970s, at a time when states faced dire financial straits. It persisted over the next thirty years despite wide fluctuations in the crime rate, public opinion, and the economy. The 2001 recession raised hopes that the prison population would shrink as severe budget deficits forced states to close prisons and lay off guards. But the surge of sentencing and drug-law reforms enacted in the wake of that recession did not make a dent in the U.S. incarceration rate. If history is any guide, rising public anxiety in the face of persistent economic distress and growing economic inequalities may, in fact, ignite support for more punitive penal policies.

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Studies of the United States and other industrialized countries indicate that the imprisonment rate tends to rise with the unemployment rate, regardless of whether the crime rate is rising or falling.5 Experts disagree about the underlying causal relationship between the unemployment rate and the incarceration rate. We do know that public opinion about crime and punishment is highly susceptible to political manipulation. Some suggest that during hard economic times, it is easier—and more tempting—for government officials and politicians to exploit the popular stereotype of a marauding underclass. Deteriorating economic conditions do not necessarily cause a spike in the crime rate—but the public often believes they do. As the sociologist W. I. Thomas once said, if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.

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Yet policy-makers grossly misperceive public opinion on penal matters, mistakenly seeing the public as more supportive of punitive measures than it actually is.24 This judgment error may explain policy-makers’ persistent reticence to make bold moves that would slash the incarceration rate and why politicians across the political spectrum respond to increases in the crime rate by reflexively calling for more prisons and tougher sentences.

In reality, public opinion research indicates that Americans have a much more nuanced view of spending on criminal justice than the popular media or public-policy debates suggest. The public overwhelmingly favors spending more on policing, crime prevention programs for young people, and drug treatment for nonviolent offenders. But it strongly opposes additional funding for prisons.25

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Note, finally, one particularly important feature of these American electoral dynamics. Crime ranks among the most important issues identified in national opinion surveys and is seen as an especially salient electoral issue when the economy is performing well.47 Local officials like district attorneys and mayors, therefore, stand to gain electorally by promising tougher measures on crime. Yet, crucially, they may not have to fund the costs of such measures themselves or, if they do have to fund them, may not face the full political costs of their economic choices. Mayors, for example, are not responsible for most aspects of a city’s economic performance. In fact, even state governors are rarely regarded by voters as notably responsible for the state of the economy; economic management is primarily attributed to the federal level. In this context, tough law-and-order policies are electorally attractive—and politically costless. This is a powerful recipe for a prisoners’ dilemma in which political actors—including voters—become locked into policy choices that would be in their best interest (individually and as part of a community) to avoid.

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Whatever the synergy between intellectual movements and policy change, we have recently begun to see some lessening of the earlier political demagoguery around crime as well as greater respect for the worthiness of investment in rehabilitation and reentry. Polling suggests that the public is at least slightly less passionately in favor of prison and long sentences as the solution to the crime problem, especially because we now have less of a crime problem. Politicians do not want to credit the recent econometric studies suggesting that the post-1985 spike in incarceration probably accounts for no more than a quarter of the 1990s crime drop2; but it has been beneficial for the movement against mass incarceration that crime is currently a less salient public issue.

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Disparities by social class in this punishment binge are enormous, and they have far-reaching and often deleterious consequences for the families and communities affected. The prisoners come mainly from the most disadvantaged corners of our unequal society; the prisons both reflect and exacerbate this inequality. The factors that lead young people to crime—the “root causes”—have long been known: disorganized childhoods, inadequate educations, child abuse, limited employability, delinquent peers. These are factors that also have long been more prevalent among the poor than the middle classes, though it has for some time been unfashionable to speak of “root causes.” Nevertheless, as Bruce Western stresses in his comprehensive empirical survey of this terrain, “punishment” and “inequality” are intimately linked in modern America, and the causality runs in both directions.4

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Punishing Race: A Continuing American Dilemma
By Michael Tonry

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White Americans, especially political conservatives and fundamentalist Protestants, tend to support harsh punishments, including the death penalty. Black people tend to support harsh punishments at much lower rates. Whites have substantially greater confidence in the justice system and its practitioners than do blacks. Researchers repeatedly find that racial animus and resentment are strong influences on whites’ punitive attitudes. Reciprocally, low levels of confidence in the fairness of the justice system are a major influence on blacks’ attitudes. Most black Americans believe the criminal justice system is racially biased and that black suspects and defendants are treated unfairly. Most whites disagree.

A substantial literature on racial differences in attitudes toward and opinions about crime control policy shows that whites have rationalized a criminal justice system that is disparately severe toward blacks. Early research on the influence of race on attitudes toward the criminal justice system found that racial prejudice (measured by support for racial segregation and belief in black inferiority) was associated with whites’ support for harsh sentencing (Cohn, Barkan, and Halteman 1991), as were negative racial stereotypes (Hurwitz and Peffley 1997), and racial antipathy (a preference for maintaining social distance from blacks; Gilliam and Iyengar 2000).

More recent work has tried to disentangle the influence of racial beliefs and attitudes, distinguishing among racial bigotry, racial resentments, and negative racial stereotyping. Findings consistently show that whites’ belief in inherent black inferiority has almost disappeared. Encouraging as that is, however, findings also demonstrate widely shared white resentments of post–civil rights era efforts to integrate blacks into mainstream American society, and a powerful association between those resentments and support for the crime control and drug policies that have ensnared so many black Americans.

The relevant literature has grown rapidly. The initial focus was on racial differences in support for harsh sentencing policies and for the death penalty. The death penalty literature began to develop after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 228 (1972), which suspended use of capital punishment in the United States, and Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), which reinstituted it. Researchers examined a wide range of issues, including characteristics of death penalty supporters and opponents, whether people’s views changed if they learned more about the subject (sometimes), whether the availability of sentences of life without possibility of parole changed opinions (sometimes), and whether blacks and whites had different views (yes, very).

Efforts have been made to see whether people’s attitudes change when they learn that blacks disproportionately occupy death row cells and that the race of the victim is a primary determinant of whether a murderer is sentenced to death. The most sophisticated study of racial attitudes about the criminal justice system, the National Race and Crime Survey, interviewed a representative sample of 600 white and 600 black Americans (Peffley and Hurwitz 2010). Randomly selected subgroups of the respondents were asked in three different ways whether they favor or oppose capital punishment for persons convicted for murder and whether they held their views strongly. In the first version of the question, they were simply asked their views. Sixty-five percent of whites said they strongly or somewhat favored capital punishment compared with 50 percent of blacks.

In the second version of the question, respondents were first told “Some people say that the death penalty is unfair because most of the people who are executed are African Americans” and were then asked whether and how strongly they favor capital punishment. The percentage of black respondents favoring capital punishment fell to 38 percent, but the white percentage in favor increased to 77 percent. In the third version, before being asked their views respondents were told that some people “say the death penalty is unfair because too many innocent people are being executed.” The white percentage was strongly or somewhat in favor (64 percent) and was unchanged from whites’ answer to the first version. Black support fell further, to 34 percent (see table 5.1).

Summarizing those patterns of response, the white percentage was unchanged when reminded that some innocent people are believed to be executed, and it increased substantially when reminded that blacks make up a disproportionate share of those executed. Blacks’ overall support of the death penalty was lower to begin with and fell when respondents were reminded of racial disparities and risks of executing innocent people.

The explanations for those discordant patterns were teased out from analyses of a large number of other variables relating to respondents’ characteristics. Blacks’ lower levels of support are related to the widespread belief that the criminal justice system treats black defendants unfairly; being reminded of problems of racial disparities and possible executions of innocents heightened those anxieties and led to lower levels of support. Few whites, however, believe that the system treats blacks unfairly. Instead, when whites are confronted with an argument about racial bias, “they reject it with such force that they end up expressing more support for the death penalty than when no argument is presented at all” (Peffley and Hurwitz 2010, 175).

In an earlier study, Lawrence Bobo and Devon Johnson (2004) examined blacks’ and whites’ support for capital punishment and the crack cocaine 100-to-1 law and the extent to which opinions changed in light of information about the racial dimensions of those problems (e.g., the disproportionate presence of blacks on death rows; that killers of whites are much more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of blacks; that most crack dealers are black). In general, except concerning the 100-to-1 law, information did not significantly affect whites’ opinions. Racial resentment was strongly related to whites’ support for the death penalty:

The most consistent predictor of criminal justice policy attitudes is, in fact, a form of racial prejudice. While racial resentment does not ever explain a large share of the variation in any of the attitudes we have measured, it is the most consistently influential of the variables outside of race classification itself. This pattern has at least two implications. It further buttresses the concern that some of the major elements of public support for punitive criminal justice policies are heavily tinged with racial animus and thus quite likely to be resistant to change based on suasion and information-based appeals. (171–72)

James Unnever and colleagues have tried to isolate the influence of racial resentments on other issues. One analysis examined data from the 2006 African American Survey undertaken for the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, and Harvard University to explore people’s explanations for racial disparities in imprisonment. This is a huge survey of 1,328 African American men, 507 African American women, and 1,029 members of other racial and ethnic groups. Blacks were substantially likelier than whites to cite denial of jobs and bad schools as “big reasons” for the disparity, but the largest differences concerned bias in the legal system. Seventy-one percent of blacks, but only 37 percent of whites, believed police bias was a primary cause of disparities. Similarly, 67 percent of blacks blamed “unfair courts,” but only 28 percent of whites (Unnever 2008, table 1). The degree to which black respondents had personally experienced what they perceived as racial discrimination “predicts whether African Americans believe that criminal injustices, such as whether the police target black men and whether the courts are more willing to convict African-American men, are reasons for the high incarceration among black men” (527).

The racial difference in perceptions of bias in the justice system that Unnever found is echoed in findings from many other projects. The leading scholar of the subject, Lawrence Bobo, a Harvard sociologist, organized two representative national surveys on race, crime, and public opinion. The 2001 Race, Crime, and Public Opinion Study is a survey of 978 non-Hispanic whites and 1,010 non-Hispanic blacks living in American households. Only 38 percent of whites said they believed the criminal justice system is biased against blacks; 89 percent of blacks said it was. Only 8 percent of blacks said that the justice system “gives blacks fair treatment”; 56 percent of whites said it did. Seventy-nine percent of whites expressed confidence that judges treat blacks and whites equally, compared with only 28 percent of blacks. Concerning police the gap was even bigger: 68 percent of whites expressed confidence in the police, and only 18 percent of blacks did (Bobo and Thompson 2006, 456). The findings of the Peffley and Hurwitz (2010) survey discussed above are similar. Seventy percent of blacks but only 18 percent of whites believed that police and courts treat blacks unfairly (189).

Approaching the same kinds of issues from another angle, Unnever, Cullen, and Jones (2008) analyzed data from the 2000 National Election Study to investigate racial differences in support for social policies to address economic and social causes of crime. Respondents were asked whether they thought “the best way to reduce crime is to address social problems or to make sure criminals are caught, convicted, and punished, or something in between.” A series of follow-up questions asked whether the preferred approach was a “much” or “somewhat” better way to reduce crime. Their main aim was to investigate whether and how people’s attachment to egalitarian beliefs influenced their attitudes toward adoption of nonpunitive anticrime policies (yes, a lot). Their premise was that people with strong commitments to equality are more likely than others to support social policies aimed at preventing crime by reducing the social and economic inequalities associated with it. A variety of demographic (age, sex, race, education, place of residence) and attitudinal (egalitarian beliefs, racial stereotypes, racial resentment) variables were analyzed. Blacks were much more likely than whites to support social policy approaches to crime reduction. Whites with racial resentments toward blacks were much more likely to oppose social policy approaches and to support criminal justice approaches. Here, too, the findings reported by Peffley and Hurwitz (2010) are similar: twice as large a percentage of whites as blacks preferred harsh punishments over social welfare programs as a crime control strategy (162).

Devon Johnson (2008) carried out a particularly comprehensive analysis of the reasons for racial differences in attitudes toward punishment. I describe it in considerable detail to show the basis of the conclusions she drew. The data came from the 2001 Race, Crime, and Public Opinion Study (Bobo and Thompson 2006). A “punitiveness index” was calculated on answers to four questions on a 1–4 scale (1 = “strongly disagree”; 4 = “strongly agree”): Do you favor life sentences for third-time felons? Should parole boards be more strict, less strict, or continue current practices? Should fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds accused of violent crimes be tried and sentenced in adult courts? Are current punishments for violent crimes too harsh, too light, or just about right? Whites were much more likely than blacks to favor three-strikes laws and trying young people as adults, to believe parole boards should be more strict, and to believe that punishments for violent crimes are too light.

To find out whether and how racial attitudes and beliefs influence punitive attitudes, Johnson developed a measure of perceived racial bias in the justice system and various measures of racial prejudice. Perceived racial bias was calculated from responses to three questions about confidence that the police, prosecutors, and judges treat blacks and whites equally.

Racial prejudice was measured in three ways. To calculate “racial resentment,” respondents were asked to agree or disagree with six propositions (shortened and paraphrased here):

1. Members of other ethnic groups have overcome prejudice and succeeded; blacks should do the same without special favors.
2. Blacks in recent years have gotten less than they deserve.
3. Government officials pay less attention to requests and complaints from black than from white people.
4. Blacks who receive welfare could get along without it if they tried.
5. If blacks would only try harder, they’d do as well as whites.
6. Generations of slavery and discrimination created conditions that make it hard for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.

To calculate “negative affect” in general attitudes to black people, respondents were asked two questions: How often have you felt sympathy for blacks? How often have you admired blacks?

Finally, to calculate “racial stereotypes,” respondents were asked to characterize on a 1–10 scale as accurate or inaccurate four negative descriptions of black people: as lazy, aggressive or violent, preferring to live on welfare, and complaining.

The analysis took account of demographic characteristics of the survey respondents, including age, sex, income, education, and place of residence, and of other characteristics such as political beliefs, fear of crime, and having a relative or friend imprisoned. When all these characteristics were taken into account, two factors stood out. For blacks, perceptions of racial bias in the system were the major distinguishing characteristic. For whites, it was racial resentment. The other two measures of prejudice—negative affect and racial stereotypes—had discernible effects that were dwarfed by the power of racial resentment.

It might in some sense seem encouraging that whites are less likely than in earlier times to harbor beliefs about racial inferiority or about race-based negative characterizations of laziness, violence, and querulousness. Their displacement by racial resentment is no cause for celebration. The consequence in some ways is more pernicious, especially in light of what we now know about statistical discrimination, colorism, Afro American feature bias, and implicit bias. Widespread beliefs that blacks are racially inferior have been replaced by beliefs that the conditions of life that lead some black people to crime are their own fault and they deserve whatever punishment they get. Put differently racial resentments provide a powerful basis for lack of sympathy for people caught up in the legal system. If disproportionate numbers of blacks are arrested for drug dealing and for violent crimes, they’ve no cause to complain.

Devon Johnson summed up where things stand:

Given the association between race and crime in political discourse, in media accounts, and in the minds of many whites, it is probable that racial prejudice will continue to play a significant role in whites’ support for punitive policies for some time. Moreover, in light of the … inability of those in privileged positions to perceive racial discrimination in the administration of justice (or their unwillingness to acknowledge it), it is unlikely that blacks’ cynicism toward the criminal justice system will markedly improve in the short term. (2008, 205)

That seems right. The explanation for whites’ attitudes can be found in the history of American race relations.

Kindle Locations 2111-2142


The question usually asked is narrower than that: How can we explain national differences in imprisonment rates? None of the commonly offered answers provides much illumination.

Crime rates and trends are not the explanation. Crime trends have been much the same throughout the Western world since 1970: rises through the early or mid-1990s and declines since. There is no relationship, however, between crime rates and imprisonment rates. Since 1973, in the face of similar crime rate trends in most Western countries, imprisonment rates increased five-fold in the United States and doubled in England and Spain, but declined by more than half in Finland, held steady in the rest of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium, and zigzagged in France and Italy (Tonry 2007). In Canada, where since 1980 crime trends have closely paralleled those in the United States, the imprisonment rate has fluctuated around 100 per 100,000 for, fifty years (Webster and Doob 2007).

Nor is public opinion the answer. In the English-speaking countries at least, penal policies and imprisonment rates vary enormously, but public opinion has stayed much the same. Majorities of the public believe crime rates are rising when they are falling. Large majorities believe judges are too lenient, on the basis of mistaken underestimates of the severity of punishments. The sentences citizens say they believe are appropriate are typically less severe than those judges actually impose. When citizens are asked whether they prefer more punitive policies or increased investment in rehabilitative programs, majorities usually prefer rehabilitation (Roberts et al. 2003).

David Garland in his 2001 book, The Culture of Control, attributes toughened penal policies in England and America to a number of conditions of “late modernity.” These include the limited capacities of governments to affect crime rates, the destabilizing effects of economic globalization, increasing population diversity, increased sensitivity to risks of all kinds, and increased vulnerability to crime of privileged segments of the population. The result, he suggests, is a proliferation of “expressive” policies meant more to reassure the public and show that government is doing something, anything, than to reduce crime.

The insuperable difficulty for the analysis is that, if Garland is correct, all Western countries should have experienced steeply rising imprisonment rates and steadily harshening penal policies. The developments he describes happened everywhere; imprisonment rates and policy trends, however, diverged dramatically.

Recent research looks deeper and tries to explain imprisonment trends and penal policy differences in terms of such factors as income inequality, citizens’ perceptions of the legitimacy of governmental institutions, citizens’ trust in each other and in government, the strength of the welfare state, and the structure of government. All these things matter. Moderate policies and low imprisonment rates are associated with low levels of income inequality, high levels of trust and legitimacy, strong welfare states, professionalized as opposed to politicized criminal justice systems, and consensual rather than conflictual political cultures (Lappi-Seppälä 2008). For each of those factors the United States falls at the wrong end, the end associated with more punitive policies and practices, but that’s the beginning, not the end, of the search for explanations. The question is, Why is the United States at the wrong end of every distribution?


That is the $64,000 question. American politicians, and therefore ultimately American citizens en masse, do not much care about the human rights of opponents in the War on Terror. And, as I demonstrated earlier, Americans do not much care about the human rights of their domestic enemies in the wars on drugs and crime.

Kindle Locations 2203-2240

Research on public opinion about punishment tells a subtle story about the effects of conservatives’ efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the judicial system. Tom Tyler (2006) and others have demonstrated the importance of the perceived legitimacy of legal institutions in the eyes of people they affect. People who believe that police and judges treat them impartially and fairly, consider their interests, and listen to their stories are more likely to respect legal institutions and to accept adverse decisions as appropriate than are people who believe they are treated unfairly. Neither Hegel nor Dworkin would be surprised by this. A different conception of legitimacy instructs that citizens who believe institutions operate fairly and honestly are more likely to respect them in general than are people who do not believe these things. Duhh!

The unhappy consequences of a half-century’s effort to undermine the legitimacy of the courts can be seen when Americans’ attitudes are compared with those of people in other countries. In both the United States (Roberts et al. 2003) and the Netherlands (Elffers and de Keijser 2006), for example, public opinion research has examined whether citizens believe judges sentence too severely, too leniently, or just right, and what sentences citizens say they themselves would impose in particular cases. The findings from English-speaking countries show that large majorities of citizens believe judges sentence too leniently. However, when the sentences citizens say they would impose are compared with those judges do impose, the comparison almost always shows that judges impose longer sentences than citizens say they would. Citizens’ beliefs about sentences are not based on the ordinary run-of-the-mill cases that make up the bulk of court dockets, but on aberrant or special cases that are distinctive or sensational enough to attract media attention. As a result most people systematically underestimate the sentences typical offenders receive.

A parallel but more nuanced body of research in the Netherlands produces similar and also strikingly different findings. Do Dutch citizens believe judges sentence too leniently? Yes. Do judges know that citizens believe this? Yes.

So far the story is the same, but then it diverges. Do Dutch judges impose sentences less severe than Dutch citizens would? Yes. Dutch citizens, unlike American citizens, are right: judges are less severe than citizens say they would be.

But now the corker: Do Dutch citizens believe judges should impose harsher sentences in order to reflect citizens’ preferences? No. That last finding is unimaginable in the United States. For decades voters have been electing politicians who run against “lenient” judges.

How do Dutch citizens explain this finding, which to Americans is bizarre? It’s easy. They trust their judges. They say that it is the judge’s job to consider the facts of cases, consult the relevant laws, and then in good faith make decisions he or she believes to be right. For a judge to do anything else would be to make a decision he or she believed to be wrong, and that’s incompatible with what an honest, conscientious judge is supposed to do.

Why would Americans have such a different outlook? To a large extent it is because conservative politicians’ efforts for fifty years to delegitimize judges have sunken in. And partly it is because many American judges and prosecutors are blatantly political. Dutch judges, like those of most developed countries, are apolitical career civil servants who are selected meritocratically. Most American judges are chosen in partisan political elections, and for limited terms. Many run for office spending campaign funds donated by lawyers who practice before them, and most of the rest are appointed in partisan political ways. It doesn’t take a great deal of cynicism for Americans to believe that what prosecutors and judges do is influenced by their political self-interest and the possible effects of their decisions on future electoral or other political prospects.

If judges cannot be trusted to handle cases brought against alleged terrorists and criminals, then other agencies of government must do it. If alleged terrorists and offenders and drug dealers and illegal immigrants and welfare recipients are evil, the embodiment of immoral behavior, then of course their interests need not be taken into account in deciding how to address the threats they represent.

All of us in our personal lives want to be treated with equal respect and concern in proceedings that affect us and our interests and our loved ones and their interests. The paranoid style, however, has too often led policy makers to forget that their enemies are human beings and to abandon the sympathy and mutual respect that distinguish human beings from animals. From that forgetting come Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and three-strikes laws and life sentences without the possibility of parole for children.

Kindle Locations 2290-2296

Unnever, Cullen, and Applegate’s examination of attitudes toward capital punishment concludes that those fundamentalists “who have a rigid and moralistic approach to religion and who imagine God as a dispassionate, powerful figure who dispenses justice are more likely to harbor punitive sentiments toward offenders” (2005, 304). A slight but fascinating article based on a representative survey of Oklahoma City residents showed that Protestant conservatives viewed nearly all crimes as “very wrong” and thus did not differentiate among them in terms of seriousness (Curry 1996, 462). This finding goes a long way toward explaining why traditional ideas about proportionality in punishment are irreconcilable with many modern three-strikes, mandatory minimum, and life without the possibility of parole laws.

Kindle Locations 2458-2474

Substantial evidence exists that public anxiety about crime and support for severe policies in the late twentieth century was shaped by politicians’ and media preoccupation with crime, rather than vice versa (e.g., Beckett 1997). Politicians and the media in the 1970s through the 1990s often did not respond to public anxiety, but provoked it in order to win elections, sell papers, and attract viewers and listeners. Table 6.1 summarizes survey results of Americans’ views about the most important problems facing the country over a quarter century beginning in 1984. Crime ranked high only during the mid-1990s, when candidates competed to endorse the toughest anticrime policies and legislatures rushed to enact three-strikes, truth-in-sentencing, mandatory minimum, and Megan’s laws. After the anticrime politicking stopped, crime dropped to the bottom of citizens’ concerns. A similar pattern appears for drugs. The bigger picture, however, is that for a time the public did become concerned, whatever its reasons for doing so. As a result it is commonly said that current policies are as they are because the public demanded them. If that were true in the early and mid-1990s, it is true no longer.

Contemporary public opinion cannot be invoked as justification for the injustices of the American justice system. Crime and drugs no longer rank high as matters of public concern. Between 2002 and 2008 only 1 to 3 percent of Americans named crime or drugs the most important problem facing the nation. In the twenty-first century concerns about crime or drugs rank far below the economy, unemployment, terrorism, health care, and education.

Crime has not featured prominently in an American presidential election since 1988, and in recent years has only occasionally been a major element in state and local elections. The flurry of adoptions of unprecedentedly severe sentencing laws ended in the mid-1990s. Many states have since enacted amendments mitigating some effects of these laws.

* * * *

Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment
By Meda Chesney-Lind and Marc Mauer

Kindle Locations 569-575

Yet when asked by the Gallup organization which approach they favored for bringing crime rates down in this country—education and jobs to address “the social and economic problems that lead to crime,” or “more prisons, police, and judges” to deter crime—we find a different picture of the American mood. In the periodic surveys taken between 1989 and 2000, between one-half and two-thirds of the respondents favored education and jobs, and between one-quarter and two-fifths favored more prisons, police, and judges. When given policy choices, the American public favors prevention over enforcement. As noted by Di-Iulio et al., “even in ‘get tough’ or ‘do justice’ periods there has been substantial public support for efforts to keep offenders from turning to crime and to keep ex-offenders from returning to it.”55

Kindle Locations 715-733

The irony of public policy in this area is that there exists substantial support for a more compassionate approach to these problems. Law enforcement leaders have recognized for some time that criminal justice responses alone are not likely to solve the nation’s drug problem. In a 1996 poll, nearly three-fourths of police chiefs indicated that mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession had been only somewhat effective or were not really the answer to the drug problems in their communities. More than half (59 percent) believed that sentencing drug users to court-supervised treatment programs was more effective than sending them to prison or jail.2

Other polls have shown that public support for treatment is strong as well. A 2001 ABC News poll found that Americans, by nearly a three-to-one margin, prefer treatment programs over incarceration for first- and second-time drug offenders.3

These sentiments are supported by research documenting that treatment is a cost-effective response to addiction. Every dollar invested in treatment results in savings between $2.50 and $7 in reduced costs of crime and social services. Treatment is also more cost-effective than punishment-oriented drug policies, with estimates that treatment for cocaine addiction is seven times more effective than domestic law enforcement, ten times more effective than interdiction, and twenty-three times more effective than source-country activities.4

At the national political level, however, these polls and data are ignored by policy makers in favor of reliance on punishment. Such approaches play on the fears of many Americans that they will be victimized by individuals with drug and alcohol problems, despite the general support for treatment.

This fear fuels discrimination and creates the impression that substance abusers are not worthy of compassion or assistance. These attitudes make individuals with alcohol and drug problems ashamed and afraid to come forward for help, thereby perpetuating the problem. But as General Barry McCaffrey, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, has pointed out about the “war on drugs” metaphor, addicted individuals need to be helped, not defeated.5

* * * *

The New Jim Crow
By Michelle Alexander

pp. 54-56

Once in the Oval Office, Bush stayed on message, opposing affirmative action and aggressive civil rights enforcement, and embracing the drug war with great enthusiasm. In August 1989, President Bush characterized drug use as “the most pressing problem facing the nation.” 93 Shortly thereafter , a New York Times /CBS News Poll reported that 64 percent of those polled— the highest percentage ever recorded— now thought that drugs were the most significant problem in the United States. 94 This surge of public concern did not correspond to a dramatic shift in illegal drug activity, but instead was the product of a carefully orchestrated political campaign. The level of public concern about crime and drugs was only weakly correlated with actual crime rates, but highly correlated with political initiatives, campaigns, and partisan appeals. 95

The shift to a general attitude of “toughness” toward problems associated with communities of color began in the 1960s, when the gains and goals of the Civil Rights Movement began to require real sacrifices on the part of white Americans, and conservative politicians found they could mobilize white racial resentment by vowing to crack down on crime. By the late 1980s, however, not only conservatives played leading roles in the get-tough movement, spouting the rhetoric once associated only with segregationists. Democratic politicians and policy makers were now attempting to wrest control of the crime and drug issues from Republicans by advocating stricter anticrime and antidrug laws— all in an effort to win back the so-called “swing voters” who were defecting to the Republican Party. Somewhat ironically, these “new Democrats” were joined by virulent racists, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, which announced in 1990 that it intended to “join the battle against illegal drugs” by becoming the “eyes and ears of the police.” 96 Progressives concerned about racial justice in this period were mostly silent about the War on Drugs, preferring to channel their energy toward defense of affirmative action and other perceived gains of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the early 1990s, resistance to the emergence of a new system of racialized social control collapsed across the political spectrum. A century earlier, a similar political dynamic had resulted in the birth of Jim Crow. In the 1890s, Populists buckled under the political pressure created by the Redeemers, who had successfully appealed to poor and working-class whites by proposing overtly racist and increasingly absurd Jim Crow laws. Now, a new racial caste system—mass incarceration— was taking hold, as politicians of every stripe competed with each other to win the votes of poor and working-class whites, whose economic status was precarious, at best, and who felt threatened by racial reforms. As had happened before, former allies of African Americans— as much as conservatives—adopted a political strategy that required them to prove how “tough” they could be on “them,” the dark-skinned pariahs.

pp. 105-108

The media bonanza inspired by the administration’s campaign solidified in the public imagination the image of the black drug criminal. Although explicitly racial political appeals remained rare, the calls for “war” at a time when the media was saturated with images of black drug crime left little doubt about who the enemy was in the War on Drugs and exactly what he looked like. Jerome Miller , the former executive director of the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, described the dynamic this way: “There are certain code words that allow you never to have to say ‘race,’ but everybody knows that’s what you mean and ‘crime’ is one of those. . . . So when we talk about locking up more and more people, what we’re really talking about is locking up more and more black men.” 37 Another commentator noted, “It is unnecessary to speak directly of race [today] because speaking about crime is talking about race.” 38 Indeed, not long after the drug war was ramped up in the media and political discourse, almost no one imagined that drug criminals could be anything other than black.

A survey was conducted in 1995 asking the following question: “Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?” The startling results were published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education . Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a black drug user, while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups. 39 These results contrast sharply with the reality of drug crime in America. African Americans constituted only 15 percent of current drug users in 1995, and they constitute roughly the same percentage today. Whites constituted the vast majority of drug users then (and now), but almost no one pictured a white person when asked to imagine what a drug user looks like. The same group of respondents also perceived the typical drug trafficker as black.

There is no reason to believe that the survey results would have been any different if police officers or prosecutors—rather than the general public— had been the respondents. Law enforcement officials, no less than the rest of us, have been exposed to the racially charged political rhetoric and media imagery associated with the drug war. In fact, for nearly three decades, news stories regarding virtually all street crime have disproportionately featured African American offenders. One study suggests that the standard crime news “script” is so prevalent and so thoroughly racialized that viewers imagine a black perpetrator even when none exists. In that study , 60 percent of viewers who saw a story with no image falsely recalled seeing one, and 70 percent of those viewers believed the perpetrator to be African American. 40

Decades of cognitive bias research demonstrates that both unconscious and conscious biases lead to discriminatory actions, even when an individual does not want to discriminate. 41 The quotation commonly attributed to Nietzsche, that “there is no immaculate perception,” perfectly captures how cognitive schemas—thought structures— influence what we notice and how the things we notice get interpreted. 42 Studies have shown that racial schemas operate not only as part of conscious, rational deliberations, but also automatically— without conscious awareness or intent. 43 One study, for example, involved a video game that placed photographs of white and black individuals holding either a gun or other object (such as a wallet, soda can, or cell phone) into various photographic backgrounds. Participants were told to decide as quickly as possible whether to shoot the target. Consistent with earlier studies, participants were more likely to mistake a black target as armed when he was not, and mistake a white target as unarmed, when in fact he was armed. 44 This pattern of discrimination reflected automatic, unconscious thought processes, not careful deliberations.

Most striking, perhaps, is the overwhelming evidence that implicit bias measures are disassociated from explicit bias measures. 45 In other words, the fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may even have black friends or relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias. Implicit bias tests may still show that you hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks, even though you do not believe you do and do not want to. 46 In the study described above, for example, black participants showed an amount of “shooter bias” similar to that shown by whites. 47 Not surprisingly, people who have the greatest explicit bias (as measured by self-reported answers to survey questions) against a racial group tend also to have the greatest implicit bias against them, and vice versa. 48 Yet there is often a weak correlation between degrees of explicit and implicit bias; many people who think they are not biased prove when tested to have relatively high levels of bias. 49 Unfortunately, a fairly consistent finding is that punitiveness and hostility almost always increase when people are primed— even subliminally— with images or verbal cues associated with African Americans. In fact, studies indicate that people become increasingly harsh when an alleged criminal is darker and more “stereotypically black”; they are more lenient when the accused is lighter and appears more stereotypically white. This is true of jurors as well as law enforcement officers. 50

Viewed as a whole, the relevant research by cognitive and social psychologists to date suggests that racial bias in the drug war was inevitable, once a public consensus was constructed by political and media elites that drug crime is black and brown. Once blackness and crime, especially drug crime, became conflated in the public consciousness, the “criminalblackman,” as termed by legal scholar Kathryn Russell, would inevitably become the primary target of law enforcement. 51 Some discrimination would be conscious and deliberate, as many honestly and consciously would believe that black men deserve extra scrutiny and harsher treatment. Much racial bias, though, would operate unconsciously and automatically— even among law enforcement officials genuinely committed to equal treatment under the law.

Whether or not one believes racial discrimination in the drug war was inevitable, it should have been glaringly obvious in the 1980s and 1990s that an extraordinarily high risk of racial bias in the administration of criminal justice was present, given the way in which all crime had been framed in the media and in political discourse. Awareness of this risk did not require intimate familiarity with cognitive bias research. Anyone possessing a television set during this period would likely have had some awareness of the extent to which black men had been demonized in the War on Drugs.

pp. 203-204

Those who claim that mass incarceration is “just like” Jim Crow make a serious mistake. Things have changed. The fact that a clear majority of Americans were telling pollsters in the early 1980s— when the drug war was kicking off— that they opposed race discrimination in nearly all its forms should not be dismissed lightly. 60 Arguably some respondents may have been telling pollsters what they thought was appropriate rather than what they actually believed, but there is no reason to believe that most of them were lying. It is more likely that most Americans by the early 1980s had come to reject segregationist thinking and values, and not only did not want to be thought of as racist but did not want to be racist.

This difference in public attitudes has important implications for reform efforts. Claims that mass incarceration is analogous to Jim Crow will fall on deaf ears and alienate potential allies if advocates fail to make clear that the claim is not meant to suggest or imply that supporters of the current system are racist in the way Americans have come to understand that term. Race plays a major role— indeed, a defining role— in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry. This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility— a feature it actually shares with its predecessors.

All racial caste systems, not just mass incarceration, have been supported by racial indifference. As noted earlier, many whites during the Jim Crow era sincerely believed that African Americans were intellectually and morally inferior. They meant blacks no harm but believed segregation was a sensible system for managing a society comprised of fundamentally different and unequal people. The sincerity of many people’s racial beliefs is what led Martin Luther King Jr. to declare , “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” The notion that racial caste systems are necessarily predicated on a desire to harm other racial groups, and that racial hostility is the essence of racism, is fundamentally misguided. Even slavery does not conform to this limited understanding of racism and racial caste . Most plantation owners supported the institution of black slavery not because of a sadistic desire to harm blacks but instead because they wanted to get rich, and black slavery was the most efficient means to that end. By and large, plantation owners were indifferent to the suffering caused by slavery; they were motivated by greed. Preoccupation with the role of racial hostility in earlier caste systems can blind us to the ways in which every caste system, including mass incarceration, has been supported by racial indifference— a lack of caring and compassion for people of other races.

pp. 208-209

Yet another notable difference between Jim Crow and mass incarceration is that many African Americans seem to support the current system of control , while most believe the same could not be said of Jim Crow. It is frequently argued in defense of mass incarceration that African Americans want more police and more prisons because crime is so bad in some ghetto communities. It is wrong , these defenders claim, for the tactics of mass incarceration— such as the concentration of law enforcement in poor communities of color, the stop-and-frisk programs that have proliferated nationwide, the eviction of drug offenders and their families from public housing , and the drug sweeps of ghetto neighborhoods— to be characterized as racially discriminatory, because those programs and policies have been adopted for the benefit of African American communities and are supported by many ghetto residents. 70 Ignoring rampant crime in ghetto communities would be racially discriminatory, they say; responding forcefully to it is not.

This argument , on the surface, seems relatively straightforward, but there are actually many layers to it, some of which are quite problematic. To begin with, the argument implies that African Americans prefer harsh criminal justice policies to other forms of governmental intervention, such as job creation, economic development, educational reform, and restorative justice programs, as the long-term solution to problems associated with crime. There is no evidence to support such a claim . To the contrary, surveys consistently show that African Americans are generally less supportive of harsh criminal justice policies than whites, even though blacks are far more likely to be victims of crime. 71 This pattern is particularly remarkable in that less educated people tend to be more punitive and blacks on average are less educated than whites. 72

The notion that African Americans support “get tough” approaches to crime is further complicated by the fact that “crime” is not a generic category. There are many different types of crime, and violent crime tends to provoke the most visceral and punitive response. Yet as we have seen in chapter 2, the drug war has not been aimed at rooting out the most violent drug traffickers, or so-called kingpins. The vast majority of those arrested for drug crimes are not charged with serious offenses, and most of the people in state prison on drug charges have no history of violence or significant selling activity. Those who are “kingpins” are often able to buy their freedom by forfeiting their assets, snitching on other dealers, or becoming paid government informants. Thus, to the extent that some African Americans support harsh policies aimed at violent offenders, they cannot be said to support the War on Drugs, which has been waged primarily against nonviolent , low-level offenders in poor communities of color.

The one thing that is clear from the survey data and ethnographic research is that African Americans in ghetto communities experience an intense “dual frustration” regarding crime and law enforcement. As Glenn Loury explained more than a decade ago, when violent crime rates were making headlines, “The young black men wreaking havoc in the ghetto are still ’our youngsters’ in the eyes of many of the decent poor and working-class black people who sometimes are their victims.” 73 Throughout the black community, there is widespread awareness that black ghetto youth have few, if any, realistic options , and therefore dealing drugs can be an irresistible temptation . Suburban white youth may deal drugs to their friends and acquaintances as a form of recreation and extra cash, but for ghetto youth, drug sales— though rarely lucrative— are often a means of survival, a means of helping to feed and clothe themselves and their families. The fact that this “career” path leads almost inevitably to jail is often understood as an unfortunate fact of life, part of what it means to be poor and black in America.

* * * *

Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It
By Lisa Bloom

pp. 197-198

And yet evidence of racial bias is all around us, though a yawning perception gap divides whites and blacks on our understanding of it. About three times as many 101 blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites at work, in stores or restaurants , in public schools, and by the health care system. And even when looking at the criminal justice system, where injustices against African Americans have been long known and well documented , mainly it is blacks who see racial discrimination and whites who do not. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 102 twice as many blacks as whites say that African Americans are treated less fairly by the police. More than twice as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly by the courts.

In fact, astonishingly, a 2011 study 103 by researchers at Tufts University and Harvard Business School found that “Whites believe that they have replaced blacks as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America.”

Some accuse African Americans of “playing the race card,” of seeing bias where none exists. So how can we get to the truth as to the extent of racial bias that still remains in America? To measure it today, researchers can’t bring in a bunch of subjects and straightforwardly ask them whether they are bigots, because everyone will simply deny it. So like Richard LaPiere before them, social scientists have gotten creative. For example, in a 2012 poll that was ostensibly about the presidential election, after a long list of political questions, the Associated Press snuck in some questions about the characteristics of people of color. When asked to associate adjectives with different racial groups, the majority called African Americans violent, lazy, and irresponsible 104 —the worst stereotypes about blacks that have lingered since the days of slavery, when the system required degradation and dehumanization to justify enslavement. Yet surely these very same people, if contacted individually and not anonymously, would strongly deny harboring any racial biases.

This disturbing poll result is consistent with the results of clever, cheat -proof tests of our subconscious attitudes developed and refined by social scientists over the last fifteen years and administered internationally.

pp. 224-225

In polls, overwhelming majorities of blacks 148 believe that African Americans are treated differently by police and the courts. Only half as many whites agree. Unfortunately, the complaints of African Americans are borne out by the research, which reveals that disparity at every turn.

Consider juries, which should be drawn randomly from the community, and which we’d hope would reflect the diversity of the local population. In reality, that’s rarely the case. In most places in the United States, African Americans in court are highly unlikely to have a jury of their peers. Of the six women who served on the Zimmerman jury, for example, five were white. The sixth, Maddy, identifies as Hispanic . When the jury was empaneled, many commentators felt that the lack of African Americans on the panel in this racially-charged case was unfortunate, but that it “just happened,” the luck of the draw. But as it turns out, it’s the norm for minorities, especially African-American men, to be underrepresented on American juries, as a direct result of laws barring them from jury service. Most states prohibit felons from jury duty and even voting—usually for life. Those with a criminal record, even veterans, even those who did their time years ago and have been contributing, taxpaying citizens ever since, cannot serve on juries. More than two million African Americans cannot vote or be jurors because of felon disenfranchisement laws— four times higher than the rest of the population.

* * * *

Race to Incarcerate
By Marc Mauer

Kindle Locations 646-667

A society’s level of incarceration may be related to a variety of political, economic, and cultural factors. The findings of the international victimization surveys tell us that of sixteen nations surveyed in regard to public attitudes on sentencing, the United States registered as the most punitive. When asked what sentence was most appropriate for a 21-year-old second-time burglar who had stolen a television set, a high of 56 percent of U.S. respondents chose prison, compared to an average of 34 percent for all nations, and in striking contrast to support of just 20 percent, 19 percent and 12 percent in Denmark, Finland, and France respectively.25

The survey’s authors also find that changes in policy can lead to increased support for alternatives to incarceration. After Finland introduced a formal community service sentencing option, public support for such penalties increased markedly, such as the 46 percent support for the burglary case above (compared to a level of 20 percent in the U.S.).

How these cultural attitudes affects rates of imprisonment is a complex process, but one factor that has been identified is the relative diversity of the population. A study of incarceration rates in the one hundred richest nations concluded that “levels of imprisonment increased with population heterogeneity.”26 So, attitudes conditioned by divisions along racial, ethnic, language, or religious lines are likely to contribute to differing rates of imprisonment, controlling for other factors.

The practical impact of these dynamics can be seen in some European nations. In the Scandinavian countries, for example, it is not unusual to participate in policy discussions regarding the “appropriate” level of incarceration in a society, with scant regard for crime rates. For example, beginning in the mid-1970s, officials in Finland introduced changes in criminal justice policy designed to lower the national rate of incarceration out of concern that their use of imprisonment was abnormally high by Scandinavian standards. By U.S. standards, this type of approach is a bit jarring, since public dialogue on imprisonment all but assumes that the only critical variable is the level of crime. Clearly, though, this assumption is far from universal.

While the analysis of comparative incarceration rates is subject to debate, what seems clear is that the issue is far more complex than conventional political or public discourse often suggests. The degree to which a society engages in prison-building, far from illustrating a direct correlation between crime and incarceration, is subject to a host of decisions made within and outside the criminal justice system.

Kindle Locations 678-704

The first decades after World War II represented a modern peak in the influence of the rehabilitative ideal on the corrections system. The country was emerging from a deadly but victorious conflict; the “baby boom” that followed in its wake brought on an era of hopefulness and optimism about the future. With the United States escaping from the war relatively unscathed on the home front, visions of an “American Century” became enticing to many business and political leaders.

This emerging economic might and sense of rebirth influenced public attitudes on social policy in a variety of ways. An expanding economic pie potentially meant greater goods and services, and allowed for more compassionate and generous public policy responses to social problems. In regard to crime and justice, this laid the groundwork for growing support for a broader acceptance of the goal of rehabilitation. We can see this perhaps most clearly in public attitudes on the death penalty. While the death penalty has been employed since the colonial period, it reached its peak of use in modern times during the Depression, with as many as 199 persons being executed annually by 1935. By the 1950s, though, the pace of executions had slowed to less than half that rate, and by 1963, there were just 23 executions.1

This decline does not appear to have reflected any dramatic drop in the number of murders; rather, it seems to reflect a growing public unease with the use of the ultimate punishment. Survey data show declining support for use of the death penalty in the postwar era, reaching a low of 42 percent support in 1966.2 A newly energized abolitionist movement gained strength as well, motivated in part by such celebrated cases as those of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Caryl Chesman in California.

As public opposition mounted, legal challenges to executions began to develop as well, so that by the late 1960s, executions all but ceased as it became clear that only a Supreme Court decision would resolve the issue. Thus, in 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the court ruled that the Georgia death penalty statute was cruel and unusual in its application—and, because the same infirmities existed in the statutes of other states, they were all in effect declared unconstitutional. The decision removed all inmates from Death Row and halted death sentences nationally, but only until the court ruled in 1976 that statutes which defined more specifically the circumstances under which death could be imposed were permissible.

The postwar move toward abolition of capital punishment was accompanied by support for rehabilitation within prison as well. As late as 1968, a Harris poll showed that 48 percent of the public thought that the primary purpose of prison was rehabilitation and that 72 percent believed the emphasis should be on rehabilitation.3

During the 1960s, though, this support for rehabilitation was challenged from two very distinct directions. From the left came a broad critique of the concept of rehabilitation in an inherently coercive institution such as a prison. Numerous liberal critics wondered whether the nature of personal transformation required a voluntary desire for change, and they questioned whether it could be accomplished under conditions of forced confinement. This critique, of course, applied not only to prisons but to other institutions as well, particularly mental hospitals.

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One final problem associated with statistical analyses of the role of race in sentencing relates to the underlying assumptions behind sentencing policies themselves. In many jurisdictions around the country, minorities constitute two thirds or more of the defendants in many offense categories. To what extent are “get tough” sentencing policies a reflection of the race and ethnicity of those likely to be affected by such policies? As the hue of the defendant population changes, do legislators and judges set different sentencing standards?

In the realm of policy development, recent research suggests that this is precisely the case. A key study examined the degree of punitiveness expressed by Americans as a function of the extent to which they perceived crime as a “black” problem. That is, if crime is viewed as disproportionately committed by blacks, does that translate into greater support for harsher responses to crime? Among whites, the authors found strong support for this hypothesis, concluding that “racial typification of crime is a significant predictor of punitive attitudes toward crime,”26 controlling for other factors. And certainly, there is no reason to believe this finding is any less true among white policymakers than among the white population overall.

We can see this as well in white support for the death penalty. One national survey concluded that “White support for the death penalty in the United States has strong ties to anti-black prejudice. For white people living in an all-white county, racial prejudice emerges as the strongest predictor of white death penalty support. . . . For their counterparts in more [racially] integrated counties, this effect is more than doubled.”27

These dynamics translate directly into the world of sentencing and incarceration policy, as seen in a study that examined changes in state prison populations between 1971 and 1991.28

The study concluded that by 1990, controlling for a variety of factors, the size of a state’s black population was an even stronger predictor of the prison population than the rate of violent crime. The authors suggest that while these findings may reflect large-scale bias within the criminal justice system, they may also be a result of harsher sentencing policies and a greater commitment to prison construction in states with larger black populations.

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The point here is not whether one believes that marijuana is a dangerous drug or not; rather, it is how the public perception of the appropriate societal response was shaped by the composition of the user population. As whites became a larger proportion of the user population and replaced blacks in the public image of the pot user, public policies changed rapidly in a more understanding and less punitive direction.

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Who are the individuals arrested for these offenses? Drunk drivers are predominantly white males, representing 78 percent of the arrests for this offense as of 1990. They are generally charged as misdemeanants and typically receive sentences involving fines, license suspension, and community service. Persons convicted of drug possession, though, are disproportionately low-income, and African American or Hispanic; they are usually charged with felonies and frequently sentenced to incarceration. Overall, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment; for drug offenders, though, the response has primarily involved greater use of law enforcement and incarceration. At the same time, while drug treatment remains popular and available for middle-class drug users, it is in short supply for low-income persons. We have already seen how sentencing practices in Western Europe are less harsh for some offenses than in the United States. In comparing the United States with Scandinavian nations, for example, many skeptics contend that the relatively humane sentencing policies of Scandinavia are due to the fact that these societies are more homogeneous. Precisely! Communities that feel a sense of commitment to their members are able to see the humanity of offenders despite their criminal behaviors and to see the potential for positive change in their lives.

* * * *

Race, Incarceration, and American Values
By Glenn C. Loury

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The entire political effect of criminal disenfranchisement laws is impossible to calculate. But it is telling that the states that disenfranchise the largest number of citizens also have some of the most draconian criminal codes, and it is not entirely clear in which direction the causal arrows run. It may well be that it is precisely because their electorates are skewed that they enact increasingly harsh laws that reinforce the skew. This may be especially true to the extent that the criminal law is enforced in a racially biased or disproportionate way. Angela Behrens’s recent work argues that perceived “racial threat” is a major variable in predicting a state’s disenfranchisement practices. She concludes:

The racial composition of state prisons is firmly associated with the adoption of state felon disenfranchisement laws. States with greater non-white prison populations have been more likely to ban convicted felons from voting than states with proportionally fewer nonwhites in the criminal justice system.

Conversely, states with a small proportion of African-American prisoners are most likely to abolish ex-felon voting restrictions.

Despite this discouraging reality, the tenor of the debate over felon disenfranchisement has taken a remarkable turn. After a generation of unsuccessful litigation against disenfranchisement laws, politics has made some dramatic strides. Recent public opinion surveys find that over 80 percent of Americans believe that ex-offenders should regain their right to vote at some point, and more than 40 percent would allow offenders on probation or parole to vote. A conservative Republican governor of Alabama signed legislation making it easier for ex-offenders to regain their voting rights. Several other states have made the restoration of voting rights automatic upon completion of an offender’s sentence or within a short period of time thereafter.

The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1

Part 1: Online Sources

This is about public opinion and public perception as it relates to public policy (see previous posts). I also include some analyses of the opinions of politicians as it relates to public opinion or rather their perception of what they think or want to believe about the public (for background, see here and here).

I’ll begin with a problematic example of a poll. Here is an article that someone offered as proving the public supports tough-on-crime policies:

There were stunning findings in a new poll released Monday on crime in New York City. Keeping crime down is way more important to voters than reforming the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program…

a new Quinnipiac University poll…reveals that public safety is uppermost on the minds of voters…

Asked which was more important, keeping crime rates down or reforming stop and frisk, 62 percent said keeping crime rates low and 30 percent said reforming stop and frisk.

The article itself isn’t important. There are thousands like it, but I wanted to use it for the polling data it was using.

I don’t know of any bias from Quinnipiac, beyond a basic mainstream bias, and so maybe the wording of the question was simply intellectual laziness. It was phrased as a forced choice question that implied choosing one negated the possibility of the other and it implied those were the only choices for public policy.

I looked further into data related to stop and frisk. It isn’t as simple as the forced choice presents it. For one, a number of studies don’t show that stop and frisk actually keeps crime rates low, as the question assumes. Secondly, when given more information and more options, Americans tend to support funding programs that either help prevent crime or help rehabilitate criminals.

The general public will favor punishment, when no other good choices are offered them. Still, that doesn’t say much about the fundamental values of most Americans. I’m not just interested in the answers given, but also the questions asked, how they are framed and how they are worded.

All of this and more is detailed in the following and in Part 2.

Disconnected Politicians, Uninformed Public


There is substantial evidence that political leaders misperceive the public mind on crime and justice issues.l Moreover, these misperceptions appear to be in one direction: that of assuming that citizens are more conservative and resistant to innovation in criminal justice than they actually are. These errors dampen imaginative thinking about crime control policy, cause premature rejection of promising policies and programs, and make certain policy options (cg, decriminalization of some offenses) taboo subjects.


Surveys in the United States, Canada and Australia have consistently found that the public has an inaccurate and negative view of crime statistics, including the general beliefs that the crime rate is rising dramatically and that a high percentage of crime involves violence (Roberts 1992; Roberts & Stalans 1997). Similar findings have also been reported in Britain (Hough & Roberts 1998).


To summarize, these findings showed that:

Respondents (even Criminology students!) were misinformed about the issue of sex offending at the beginning of the project;

The attitudes towards sex offenders were indeed different when measured using plain surveys as compared to deliberative polls; and

The change in attitudes experienced as a result of the deliberative process remained stable 10 weeks later.

What does all this mean? Although these results are not generalizable to the public at large, they do provide some insight into the differences between public opinion and public judgment as sources for criminal justice policy-making. When asked to answer a survey, people express their views on a topic they may or may not know something about. If they know something about it, that information may be based solely on what is reported in the media. Maybe respondents never even thought about the topic until they were asked to answer the survey. In deliberative polls, people receive balanced, scientific information about the different aspects of the issue at hand and they are provided an opportunity to think and discuss. Whatever their views on the subject may be, they reflect a carefully considered opinion. In those cases in which legislators are willing to take into account public opinion when designing criminal policies, shouldn’t we try to make sure that the public views those policies are based on are not just fruit of the spur of the moment, but representative of what society really wants?

Growing Doubt, Shifting Opinion


Importantly, in addition to helping us understand the expansion of the U.S. carceral state, the public’s punitiveness may also help explain more recent developments in the U.S. criminal justice system. As Tim Newburn has noted on this blog, some politicians and policies are beginning to reflect a shift in a less punitive direction. This shift is consistent with the declining public punitiveness observed above. In fact, if the public’s punitiveness had not declined in recent years, we would expect even more individuals would have been incarcerated.


A public opinion survey reveals a substantial majority of persons harbor doubts about the effectiveness of the American criminal justice system. The nationwide survey reveals a crisis of confidence in our nation’s legal system, says the non-profit Center for Prosecutor Integrity.

The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of the American legal system. But two-thirds (66.8%) of the survey respondents believe the presumption of innocence is becoming lost in our nation’s legal system.

Equal treatment is promised by the 14h Amendment to the Constitution. But three-quarters (74.8%) believe our legal system often does not follow the rule of ‘equal treatment under the law.’

Prosecutors occupy a central role in the criminal justice system, but over two-fifths (42.8%) say prosecutor misconduct is widespread. Strong majorities of persons say most cases of prosecutor misconduct are kept hidden from the public (71.4%), and similar numbers say prosecutors who commit misconduct are almost never punished (73.5%).


Surveys and opinion polls conducted by government, academic, or private groups provide snapshots of the workings of the criminal justice system. Collecting information from original sources or coordinating data from existing streams, these studies provide new insights into the effectiveness of policies and programs as well as revealing public perceptions and attitudes. They also serve as benchmarks when measured against past studies and offer guidance for future planning.

This article examines some of the sources for surveys and public polling concerning the criminal justice system. In addition to overview studies about the application of surveys to criminal justice, the selected topics include: crime, criminal histories, death penalty, public defense, sentencing, sex offenses, treatment, and reentry.


Public opinion on crime and criminal justice has undergone a significant transformation over the past few years. Support for long prison sentences as the primary tool in the fight against crime is waning, as most people reject a purely punitive approach to criminal justice. Instead, the public now endorses a balanced, multifaceted solution that focuses on prevention and rehabilitation in concert with other remedies.

Other Public Opinion Data


Our survey results show that this image of individual attitudes toward crime and criminal justice as hardened, punitive, and inflexible may be incorrect. Through the use of survey experiments, we find that attitudes toward crime and criminal justice depend on information and context. Depending on these factors, individual attitudes can be changed in either a more punitive or less punitive direction. The lesson to be learned is that traditional survey methods may present a biased image of what individual citizens are willing to support and tolerate when it comes to crime.


According to a national public opinion poll conducted in 2007, the public is losing confidence in the death penalty. People are deeply concerned about the risk of executing the innocent, about the fairness of the process, and about the inability of capital punishment to accomplish its basic purposes. Most Americans believe that innocent people have already been executed, that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, and that a moratorium be placed on all executions.


In April, 2009, NCCD commissioned Zogby International to conduct a national public opinion poll about American voter attitudes toward our nation’s response to nonviolent, nonserious crime. The results of this poll showed that striking majorities favor using methods other than incarceration to respond to nonserious crime.


In February, 2006, NCCD commissioned Zogby International to conduct a national public opinion poll about American attitudes toward rehabilitation and reentry of prisoners into their home communities. Except where noted, the questions pertained to prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes, such as drug or property offenses. The results of the poll showed that striking majorities favor rehabilitation as a major goal of incarceration. The public appears to recognize that our current correctional systems do not help the problem of crime, that prisoners face enormous barriers to successful reintegration to the community, and that rehabilitative services should be provided as a means of reducing crime.


This paper presents experimental survey results about Americans’ attitudes towards the disenfranchisement of felons and ex-felons. Two long-term trends in public opinion provide the backdrop: strong public support for conservative anti-crime policies, and growing public support for civil rights and civil liberties for most groups. We find that 80% favor restoring voting rights to former felons once they complete their sentences, 60% support voting for parolees and 60-68% for probationers. Only 31%, however, favor allowing current prisoners to vote. In the clash between the desire to punish and the desire to protect the civil liberties of unpopular groups, we find greater public support for the latter view.

Racial Profiling: Widespread and Unfair



A Gallup poll released today revealed that the majority of Americans — both black and white — believe that racial profiling is both widespread and unfair.


The purpose of this investigation was to provide data on the experience of racial profiling that cannot easily be dismissed by those who regard the accounts of ordinary citizens as unreliable and based on a lack of understanding of police work. Although some law enforcement leaders lack confidence in the ability of the general public to identify racial profiling, it could also be argued that denials of the reality of racial profiling by White authorities are unreliable and based on a lack of understanding of being Black in America. African American police officers have the unique vantage point of having the lived experience of being Black in America along with the professional knowledge and experience that comes with being police officers.

More than two thirds of the officers in our study reported having been on the receiving end of racial profiling at some point in their lives. Indicating that racial profiling is not just a thing of the past, 43% of respondents said that they had experienced racial profiling in the past 5 years, and 1 in 4 reported having been racially profiled in the past year. The degree to which racial profiling is a particular problem for Black men is indicated by the fact that nearly 3 out of every 4 of the male respondents to our survey said that they had been subjected to this practice. Suggesting that dark-skinned African Americans are targeted to an even greater degree than those with light or medium skin tones, respondents who identified themselves as “dark-skinned” reported the highest percentages of having been racially profiled. Finally, despite having obvious reasons to oppose racial profiling, 1 in 10 of the officers in our survey reported that they engage in racial profiling them-selves and believe it is a necessary tool of law enforcement.

The responses of the African American police officers in this survey must be added to the growing body of evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops and to the stream of first-person accounts by African Americans from all walks of life showing that racial profiling is a reality. Unfortunately, the obstacles faced by those who wish to bring an end to racial profiling include a context in which this practice is both denied and condoned. Even as police administrators deny the reality of racial profiling, they reward officers for effective use of drug courier profiles that rely on racial stereotypes. Even as the Supreme Court claims to guarantee equal protection for all citizens, it has all but condoned racial profiling by allowing police to use the pretext of traffic enforcement to stop anyone they want. Despite claims by some that civil rights for racial minorities have been achieved in the United States, racial discrimination continues to contaminate the criminal justice process.Though police officers are the gatekeepers to that process, they do not create their own marching orders. Bringing an end to racial profiling will require strong leadership dedicated to putting an end to racially biased policing in all its forms. Because of the failure of the Supreme Court to take decisive action to end racial profiling, police administrators must aggressively develop clear and direct policy guidelines that severely restrict police discretion when it comes to the use of race as a factor in determining potential criminality. These guidelines should be strictly enforced with disciplinary procedures for their violation. There must be an unequivocal message that racially biased policing will not be tolerated.

Stop and Frisk: Leads to Mistrust and Unwillingness to Cooperate



The NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program is essentially a program in which black people are stopped and frisked due to their display of criminal risk factors, like being nonwhite. A shocking new poll finds that black people tend to believe there’s something wrong with the program.

First, allow us to remind you of these little NYCLU factoids published just months ago: “Though they account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011. The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406). Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.”


Overall approval for stop and frisk was at 45 percent, while disapproval was at 50 percent.

Stop and frisk is a Bloomberg-era policy many voters want to amend.  58% of registered voters citywide want the next mayor to significantly change the Bloomberg policy of stop and frisk.  36%, however, want the controversial policy to continue.  Seven percent are unsure.

Racial differences exist.  75% of African American voters and 63% of Latino voters want the policy of stop and frisk to be overhauled.  This compares with just 44% of white voters who share this view.


A landmark study has found that stop-and-frisk policing leads to so much mistrust of cops, many young adults won’t go to cops to report violent crimes — even when they are the ones victimized.

The study, by the Vera Institute of Justice, found a stunning correlation between those who have been stopped and frisked, and an unwillingness to cooperate with the police.

For every additional time someone was stopped, that person was 8% less likely to report a violent crime, the researchers found.

“Our main finding is pretty plain and simple: Stop-and-frisk is compromising the trust needed for public safety,” lead researcher Jennifer Fratello said. […]

The Vera study surveyed 500 men and women ages 18 to 25 in five “highly patrolled neighborhoods” — Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York in Brooklyn; Jamaica, Queens; East Harlem, and the South Bronx — who said they had been stopped at least once by cops.

Of those surveyed, 46% said cops had used physical force on them, and 29% said they were never given a reason for why they were stopped.

Yet most of those stopped had done nothing wrong.

Of those surveyed, 85% said they were not involved in any illegal activity and were let go — a finding that matches NYPD stats that found 89% of people subjected to stop-and-frisks last year were innocent of any wrongdoing.

The researchers said the experience of being stopped affects the willingness of young adults to cooperate with the police.

Of the 500 people interviewed, most of whom were black or Latino, 76% said they would not go to the police to report someone they knew had committed a crime. And 59% said they wouldn’t go to cops even if they were the victim of a violent crime.

Nearly 9 in 10, 88%, said residents in their neighborhood don’t trust the police.

The study also found a stunning percentage of young adults who were stopped again and again.

Of those surveyed, 80% said they had been stopped more than once in their lives, and 44% said they had been stopped at least nine times.

Some of the young adults said they had been stopped 20 or more times.


The New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk initiative may not be getting guns off the street or reducing crime, but it is certainly making an impact on public opinion. A new poll by the New York Times found that a significant majority of New Yorkers think police favor whites over blacks. The sentiment is especially strong within the African American community; 80 percent of the respondents agreed that police favor whites, compared to 48 percent of white New Yorkers. The poll also found that a majority of black New Yorkers think stop-and-frisk has led to the harassment of innocent people.

This perception may come from the fact that the NYPD made more stops of young black men in 2011 than the total number of young black men in the city. Police have been accused of practicing racial profiling through stop-and-frisk, which would explain why attitudes towards the policy fall along racial lines:

Opinions about stop-and-frisk fall are divided by race. Fifty-five percent of whites described the use of the tactic as acceptable; 56 percent of blacks called it excessive. Among Hispanics, 48 percent said it was acceptable and 44 percent said it was excessive. Republicans, independents and residents of Queens generally support the practice; Democrats and Manhattanites generally deem it excessive.

Overall, 64 percent of New Yorkers say the police favors one race over the other, a steep rise from the early years of the Bloomberg administration, when less than half of residents agreed with that sentiment. The perception of police favoritism has not been as widespread since the final years of Mr. Giuliani’s tenure, when race relations were noticeably more tense. (The question has not been asked in a Times poll since 2003.)

These views, in many cases, appear to have been influenced by personal experience. A third of the New Yorkers surveyed, including 37 percent of black people, said police officers had used insulting language toward them. A fifth of the respondents said they had been stopped by a police officer because of their race or ethnicity, and almost all were black or Hispanic, and more likely to be young and male.


Besides damaging their relationship with minority communities, the NYPD has also alienated journalists and activists through the program, prompting several allegations against police officers for beating up, intimidating and arresting anyone who films them.


Just over one-out-of-three voters favor a stop and frisk law like New York City’s and think such a law actually fights crime.

The New York City law allows police to stop and frisk anyone on the street whom they consider suspicious, but 50% of Likely U.S. Voters oppose having a stop and frisk law where they live. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 36% favor such a law, while 13% are undecided.


Thursday’s poll also shows that 50 percent of of New York City voters disagree with the notion that a reduction in the practice would lead to an increase in crime, while 41 percent believe it would cause crime to go up.


Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent, the report says. And there are other reasons to doubt that stop-and-frisk makes the city safer. First, the number of people caught carrying weapons during stop-and-frisk is minuscule. In 2011, police found weapons on only 1.8 percent of blacks and Latinos frisked, and 3.8 percent of whites. (If anybody should be stopped-and-frisked more, it’s …)

Second, the practice has no impact on the level of gun violence in New York City, according to a recent investigation from DNAinfo.com.

While the NYPD was stopping and frisking a record 685,724 people last year, 1,821 people were victims of gunfire, according to NYPD and city statistics. That’s virtually the same number as in 2002, Bloomberg’s first year in office, when 1,892 people were shot, but just 97,296 people were frisked.

Third, analysis from New York Daily News shows that stop-and-frisk has no impact on NYC’s murder rate either.

The city’s murder rate started dropping long before Kelly’s current tenure as commissioner, and there’s no evidence stop-and-frisk had anything to do with it. There were 2,245 murders in 1990. By 2001, the year before Bloomberg hired Kelly, the number of murders had dropped to 649. That total fell to 587 in 2002, the year before the commissioner initiated his aggressive stop-and-frisk regime.

Still, apparently, those who approve of stop-and-frisk believe that if it decreased, gun crime would increase. The percentage of black, white and Latino voters who believe that is 28 percent, 39 percent, and 46 percent respectively.

More State Public Opinion Data


In the last several years, Texas shifted from building more prisons to closing prisons, saving $2 billion while, most importantly, achieving the state’s lowest crime rate since 1968. This poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Texans embrace this empirically validated approach. Whether Republican, Democrat, or independent, Texans turn out to have a very practical view of criminal justice, informed by common sense.


85 percent of Massachusetts residents polled support a reform agenda that includes a focus on rehabilitation, increased use of probation, reduced sentences for non-violent criminals and drug users, and reduced reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing. Support for these reforms rises to 91 percent when respondents learn that other states have lowered crime with similar reforms, the report stated.


1. Massachusetts residents want the criminal justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation – two areas where the current system is not seen as effective

2. Two-thirds want reforms that result in fewer people sent to prison, reversing previous high levels of support for new prisons.

3. Residents show little support for mandatory minimum sentencing.

4. The public sees drug use as a health problem rather than a crime, and seeks an increased focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

5. Concerns about supervision cloud picture of public support.

6. In areas where more inmates are released, residents agree with the broad, pro-reform sentiment of the rest of the state.


“Voters really are less supportive of the prisons and the budgets that are given to the prisons,” DiCamillo added. “They’d much rather fund the K-12 schools or higher education or health care.”

The most significant finding came when voters were asked whether the state’s three-strikes law, which passed in 1994, should be modified to allow judges and juries more discretion when sentencing a criminal for a third felony.

The poll found 74 percent of voters would support allowing that discretion to ease prison overcrowding, with 24 percent opposed.


Despite voters’ ambivalence over capital punishment, a ballot measure seeking to amend the three-strikes law is attracting strong support from a broad cross section, including conservatives. Proposition 36 takes aim at what critics of three strikes call its unfairest feature by changing the law so that offenders whose third strikes were relatively minor, such as shoplifting or drug possession, could no longer be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.


Ethnic groups in California want to see more treatment and rehabilitation programs in the state’s penal system and less reliance on jail time, according to a new poll of ethnic Californians on the state’s criminal justice policies.

The multilingual poll shows a vacuum of faith in the penal system among some of the populations most affected by the policies that have put California on the map as having some of the nation’s toughest criminal justice laws. […]

For all the groups polled, large majorities–ranging from 83 to 91 percent–believed that people with drug problems convicted for minor crimes should be sent to drug treatment programs rather than prison. Clear majorities in all the groups also thought that community service was a preferable punishment for petty crimes by strong majorities.

A majority of respondents in all but one of the groups thought that ex-convicts should be eligible for government education loans and also keep their right to vote. Less than half, or 48 percent of American Indians, thought that this was a good idea. […]

The poll reports mixed opinions on the controversial Three Strikes law, which requires a term of 25 years to life for any felony committed by a defendant with two previous serious or violent felony convictions.

Most groups expressed mixed opinions on the Three Strikes Law with no clear majorities expressing themselves either way. The exceptions were 76 percent of African-American respondents who said they opposed the law and 61 percent of Latinos who said they supported the law.

But when told that many defendants sentenced under Three Strikes had committed nonviolent crimes, “like stealing a pair of sneakers or forging a check,” Asians and Latinos shifted their answers. Latinos changed from being 61 percent in favor of the law to 64 percent opposed. Asian Americans, meanwhile, went from being 48 percent in favor of the law to 56 percent against Three Strikes.

The poll also revealed a contradiction between how communities feel about their neighborhood cop and how they feel about the criminal justice system as a whole.

Majorities in all the groups polled–Latinos, Asians and Middle Easterners, African Americans, American Indians and non-Latinos–feel their neighborhood cops are doing a satisfactory job. Still, majorities in all the groups ranging from 54 percent for Asians and 88 percent for African Americans also said that the system favors the rich and powerful.

Three-fourths of African Americans and a significant proportion of Latinos (48 percent) feel police harass and detain people with darker skin or foreign accents more than others.

Opinions diverged on capital punishment. The poll asked respondents whether they were in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. African Americans and Latinos showed the most disapproval. Among African Americans, 55 percent said they are against the death penalty and 34 percent said they were in favor; among Latinos, 47 percent were against the death penalty and 41 percent were in favor.

Roughly two-thirds of American Indians, non-Latino whites, Asians and Middle Easterners said they supported the death penalty in these cases.

As the cash-strapped state decides which services to cut, a majority of respondents in all groups said they would rather see prison funding cut over social services or education funds. In proportions that ranged from 82 to 98 percent, respondents in all groups support spending more money on educating youth and less on building more prisons.

Responses suggested that many ethnic Californians favor more lenient policies toward youth offenders. When asked if they supported the death penalty for 16 and 17-year-old juveniles convicted of murder all the groups polled showed major opposition, from 52 percent of non-Latino whites to 74 percent of Latinos. Respondents were asked about voter-approved law Proposition 21 passed in 2000 that allows juveniles as young as 16 to be tried as adults. Clear majorities of African Americans, Latinos, and Middle Easterners and significant portions of other groups showed opposition to Proposition 21.