Racial Attitudes and Whites' Opinions about the Trayvon Martin Case

April 03, 2012, 4:23 PM UTC

As discussed earlier on this site, a nationally representative survey of Americans conducted last week by YouGov (n=1,000) uncovered significant racial differences in respondents’ opinions about Trayvon Martin—the 17 year old African-American who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February.  Not surprisingly, black respondents were considerably more likely to think Zimmerman should be arrested and tried than whites (83% to 58%).  Race also shaped opinions of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which has helped Zimmerman evade arrest thus far.  Only 6% of black respondents, for example, support this law that allows individuals to use deadly force if they believe they or others are threatened, compared to 35% of whites.       

Along with such racial polarization, there is a long history of racial attitudes influencing white Americans’ opinions about issues associated with black people (see among many others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  In keeping with those studies, my analysis of last week’s YouGov survey uncovered strong effects of racial attitudes on white Americans’ opinions about the Trayvon Martin case.  Indeed, the figure below shows that white respondents’ who scored high in racial resentment (see measurement: here) were nearly 40 percentage points less likely to think George Zimmerman should be arrested than their least resentful counterparts, even after controlling for party identification, ideological self-placement and educational attainment.  These racial attitude effects were slightly more pronounced for the Stand Your Ground Law.  With partisanship, ideology and education controlled for, the second panel shows that the most racially resentful were 45 percentage points more supportive of this law than the least resentful whites.

 

(Note: Predicted probabilities were calculated by setting partisanship, ideology, education, and thermometer rating of whites to their sample means. Source: YouGov Survey, March 24-27, 2012)

Finally, the panels below demonstrate that white respondents’ ratings of African-Americans on a 0-100 thermometer scale had a similar sized impact on how these individuals felt about both Zimmerman’s criminal culpability and whether the Stand Your Ground Law should remain in place as is.

 

 

(Note: Predicted probabilities were calculated by setting partisanship, ideology, education, and thermometer rating of whites to their sample means. Source: YouGov Survey, March 24-27, 2012)

All told, then, the results presented confirm what most people probably already suspected—white Americans’ opinions about the Trayvon Martin incident are at least partially rooted in their feelings towards African-Americans.