Americans expected that the men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery would be found guilty

November 24, 2021, 6:30 PM UTC

Updated: November 24, 2021 at 1:55 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, the jury concluded their deliberations in yet another racially significant trial — that of William Bryan and Gregory and Travis McMichaels, who were charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who had been jogging in their neighborhood in Georgia. The jury found all three men guilty of murder.

It is a verdict that Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll expected, and one that they hoped to see.

Most Americans (56%) believed there should be a guilty verdict, while just 6% disagreed. The consensus on this crossed party lines.  Although Republicans were less likely to express an opinion on this question, those who did were twice as likely to say McMichaels and Bryan should be found guilty as to say they should not. 

This trial hadn’t gotten as much coverage as Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal of homicide charges in Wisconsin last week. Or, at least, it hasn’t been in the public’s consciousness as much.

In last week’s Economist/YouGov poll, conducted as the jury was deliberating in the Rittenhouse trial, nearly half had heard “a lot” about that case. This week, only 29% had heard a lot about the trial of the McMichaels and Bryan. Slightly more (31%) say they had heard nothing about it.

There was a large amount of uncertainty, but there was also consensus across party lines that the men were more likely than not to be found guilty. 

Expectations for the outcome of the Arbery murder trial were very different from those before the Rittenhouse verdict. Americans with an opinion overwhelmingly believe the Georgia trio should be found guilty of murdering Arbery. Those who had a prediction thought that was exactly what would happen, though half were not sure about the outcome.

One week ago, white Americans were evenly divided in their perception of the guilt of Rittenhouse. When it comes to the Bryan and McMichaels case, they have a wide gap of 42 points in favor of guilty verdicts. 

Overall, while more last week thought Rittenhouse was guilty and not innocent, the margin was only 13 points, not the 45 points it is today in the public’s judgment of the Georgia trio. The more someone has heard about this week’s trial, the greater the belief in the guilt of the three men. Americans expected a guilty verdict for Bryan and the McMichaelses. Last week, by two to one, they expected Rittenhouse to be acquitted.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between November 20 - 23, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, and region 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. 

Image: Getty