The indispensable Pew Research Center is out with a new poll that shows what they call a “racial divide” on perceptions of, and interest in, the story of Mike Brown’s killing by Ferguson, Mo. police, and the subsequent turmoil. A closer look, however, shows that the only divide is between conservative white people and everyone else:
By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
Whites Divided in Views of Police Response to Ferguson Shooting. Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting’s aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.
Racial Divide in Confidence in Investigations of Brown Shooting. Whites also are nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. About half of whites (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the investigations, compared with just 18% of blacks. Roughly three-quarters of blacks (76%) have little or no confidence in the investigations, with 45% saying they have no confidence at all.
Unfortunately, Pew didn’t publish detailed crosstabs, but if you look at the partisan breakdown that they did include in the report, Democrats’ opinions on these questions hewed pretty closely to those of black respondents, with “independents” characteristically unable to make up their minds, and Republicans in sharp disagreement.
Without detailed crosstabs, it’s impossible to say exactly how many of the white respondents were Democrats and/or left-leaning independents, but if you look at their sample, and apply 2012 presidential exit polling data to it, you find that only about 17% of the white people polled on those questions are Democrats, while 30% are Republicans, and the rest are basically evenly split between left- and right-leaning independents. That’s because Pew didn’t include Hispanics, who voted for Barack Obama at 71%, in those questions.
Therefore, when you see a result that says 33% of whites say the police have gone too far, or that the same percentage of whites have little confidence in the investigation, it’s a pretty safe bet that that’s almost all of the white Democrats, and some of the leaners.
This “racial divide” concoction is not a new thing, and it probably has more to do with confirmation bias than anything else. Pollsters expect a racial divide, so that’s what they look for. The effect, however, is to obscure the truth. When the media gets ahold of polls like this, the narrative that it reinforces is either that black people are hypersensitive to racial issues, and the wider world is more level-headed, or that white people are necessarily, and naturally, disconnected from the concerns of black people. The truth is that only those most committed to maintaining a white status quo view things this way.