A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted before Monday night’s grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson found that Americans are still sharply divided over the shooting of teenager Michael Brown this summer by Wilson.
Thirty percent said both Wilson and Brown made mistakes and it was “just a tragic accident,” while 28% said Wilson was at fault and should be punished for shooting the unarmed 18-year-old. Twenty percent more were on the fence.
Twenty-two percent thought Wilson would be treated too harshly, while twenty-six percent thought he would be treated too leniently. Only 18% were confident that the punishment he would receive was adequate, while 34% were still on the fence.
According to a separate CNN poll conducted before the grand jury announcement, 32% of Americans want Wilson charged with murder, 25% want him charged with a lesser crime, and 31% want him charged with nothing at all.
There has always been a clear schism in opinion on the Ferguson incident along racial and political lines. Recent polling by HuffPost/YouGov found that 64% of African-Americans, but only 22% of Whites, held Wilson responsible for the incident. More than seven times as many white respondents as black respondents felt the shooting was justified. African-Americans overwhelmingly felt Wilson’s punishment would be too light, while only 2% were concerned it would be too harsh.
In addition, Democrats were three times more likely than Republicans to find Wilson at fault and worry that he would be treated too leniently by the justice system.
Perhaps the most divisive point of view was on the question of whether or not this shooting was an isolated incident or part of a larger pattern in the way police treat black men. Even though opinions were divided among Americans as a whole, a majority (74%) of black Americans and 57% of Democrats saw the shooting as part of a larger pattern, while only 31% of whites and 18% of Republicans shared this view.
Few Americans, of either major party, were happy with how local politicians handled the shooting and its aftermath. Only 17% of people in Missouri thought the politicians’ response was adequate; this included 17% of whites and 13% of blacks. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they believed there would be violent protests if an indictment were not returned, indicating widespread concern about the potential for unrest.
A total of 1,000 American adults were surveyed by HuffPost/YouGov between November 14 and 17, with respondents drawn from YouGov’s online panel to ensure representativeness. Considered are demographic characteristics such as age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, Internet access, political engagement, religious affiliation, and church attendance.
The Huffington Post and YouGov are working together to run daily polls. You can participate in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling and read more about this initiative on their site. Here you will find information from all HuffPost/YouGov polls.