Americans overwhelmingly (65% to 7%) agree with last week’s convictions of three white men for killing Armaud Arbery, a Black man who had been jogging in their neighborhood in Georgia. However, many Americans remain concerned about whether their country’s criminal-justice system treats Black and white Americans equally. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, most Americans say a white defendant is likely to get a fair trial, but the country is divided about whether a Black defendant would.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that a white defendant would receive a fair trial. Only about one-third of Americans expect that a Black defendant would get a fair trial, and about the same proportion say a Black defendant wouldn’t get a fair trial. White Americans overwhelmingly say that white defendants are likely to get a fair trial. They tend to say the same of Black defendants but the margin is much smaller: 40% say a fair trial is likely, while 34% say one would be unlikely. Republicans, as a group, say that the current justice system treats Black and white defendants about the same: They are as likely to say a Black American would get a fair trial as to say a white American would.
There are faults in the criminal-justice system, according to many respondents in the poll. By 56% to 31%, Americans say it is somewhat or very common for people to be arrested for crimes they did not commit. Black Americans are even more likely to believe the arrest of innocent people is somewhat or very common: Nearly three in four Black Americans say this. Somewhat more Americans expect an eventual just outcome when innocent people are tried for crimes they did not commit: 45% say it is somewhat or very common for innocent people to be convicted, while 41% disagree. Among Black Americans, 59% believe it is somewhat or very common for innocent people to be convicted. Only 27% say that is somewhat or very uncommon.
Do Americans believe that if they personally were a victim of a crime, they would get justice? Most white Americans generally believe they would get justice if they were a crime victim, while just one-third of Black Americans say they would expect justice.
The results are similar when the question becomes whether people think they would get justice from the legal system if they were accused of a crime they did not commit. While 52% of white Americans say they would get justice in that circumstance, just 32% of Black Americans say the same.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between November 27 and November 30, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample.
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