The chart below, from a recent PRRI survey, has gotten a fair amount of attention on the intertubes over the past couple of days:
Adam Serwer thinks the change between 2013 and 2014 is due to backlash from the Ferguson shooting, but I suspect that’s only part of the story. The poll was done over the course of four weeks, and only the final week overlapped with the shooting of Michael Brown and its aftermath. Those folks in the final week would have had to change their opinions massively to produce the 5-10 point difference we see in the survey population as a whole.
So there’s probably more to it, and that’s a good thing. It suggests the shift in opinion might be more durable than one motivated by a single incident.
But I want to play partisan hack today and just focus on the far left bar, which shows that Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to think that blacks don’t get a fair shake from the criminal justice system. At first glance, you might figure that’s just demographics at work. Republicans are heavily white and old, and those two groups are the ones least likely to think blacks are treated unfairly.
But take another look. The mere fact of being Republican makes you less likely than even whites and seniors to believe blacks don’t get fair treatment. Why? Call it the Fox News effect. If you’re exposed day after day to Fox and Drudge and Limbaugh, it means you’re being overwhelmed with the message that blacks are dangerous, blacks are thuggish, and blacks are forever whining about wanting special treatment. This message is so overwhelming that even after Ferguson, Republicans are far less likely than any other group to acknowledge the simple fact that blacks might occasionally get treated a little roughly by cops and DAs.
That’s changed by ten points in the past year, so maybe there’s hope. Perhaps Fox and the others have toned down their obsession with racial hot buttons over the past year. Perhaps.