Just before last weekend's Zimmerman verdict, Gallup wrapped up a survey diving into how Americans view the state of race relations in the U.S. And while the overall optimistic outlook, released today, might read as incongruous with the current passionate, divisive national conversation emerging on race in the wake of Zimmerman's acquittal, there's a lot to take in from the results.
Here's the overall outlook from Gallup:
But even given the majority of positive responses, other questions illuminate some deeper divides on the issue, and just how the public responds to moments in time when racial conversations enter into the national spotlight. For example, the poll notes just how dramatically a racially-charged trial in the national spotlight can change short-term views on the future of race relations in America. Looking at one particular question, whether "black-white relations will always be a problem for the United States," it's nearly impossible to miss a spike in affirmative responses:
That spike, Gallup notes, occurred just after the 1995 O.J. Simpson acquittal for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. And while the circumstances of the Simpson trial and the Zimmerman trial are quite different, both trials touched deep nerves. Both, widely covered, resonated as relevant to the deeper, structural issues of inequality and racial tensions in the U.S. justice system, in law enforcement, and in the media. People wrote books about the role of race in the O.J. Simpson trial. We still talk about it. And while it's not clear whether the Zimmerman trial will have a similar permanence in the American historical conversation about race, Gallup's results demonstrate just how deeply a sensationalized trial can cut.
The survey, part of the Gallup's Minority Rights and Relations poll, also captures how black Americans perceive their treatment in a number of public spaces and situations. And guess what: nearly 1 in 4 young black men (between ages 18 and 34) told Gallup that they'd been treated unfairly by the police in the past 30 days. That's higher than the average for all black Americans — at 17 percent — but speaks directly to a much-discussed topic during and after the Zimmerman trial: the notion that young, black men are profiled as potential criminals simply because they're young and black. In some cities, to be sure, that notion is formalized into the law enforcement system itself.
Gallup, however, doesn't seem to think that the Zimmerman trial will have the same staying power as the O.J. Simpson trial does in the American conversation about race. They cite one of their 2012 polls on popular views of the Zimmerman case, which noted that black Americans were much more likely to see Travyon Martin's death as a racial issue. In that poll, 72 percent of black Americans said that Zimmerman was guilty of a crime, while just 32 percent of non-black Americans were sure of Zimmerman's guilt.