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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Is Polling Relevant When it Comes to Civil Rights?

A comment from a reader concerning my recent post on the Arizona immigration law:

Does an infringement on our civil rights require polling? What did polls have to say about the civil rights movement. This shouldn't be defined by it's perception but the negative effects it will have on the Latin American population of Arizona. Also, why would those who tend to be more conservative choose to expand the power of police and government?

In answer to the reader’s question: Public opinion (which is what is measured by polls) actually does have a lot to say about a civil rights movement.

Public opinion may not have any effect on what an individual, like the reader, feels personally. As the reader writes, he may well believe that an infringement on civil rights is something he should take a stance on regardless of whether or not his neighbors agree. That’s fine.

But. Those who want to actually do something about civil rights issues will have to be concerned about public opinion on those issues. What their neighbors believe will become important.

One of the major goals of most civil rights movements is the attempt to change the minds of the general public. The effort is to shift public opinion in the movement's direction. That’s why we have demonstrations, lobbying, phone banking, direct mail, advertisements, and all of the other activities that people who feel strongly about issues engage in to shift public opinion.

Measuring where that opinion stands and how it changes is where we (and other pollsters) step in.

Public opinion was obviously an important element in the 2008 fight over Proposition 8 in California (which defined marriage in that state as only between a man and a woman). Both sides of this issue spent millions upon millions to sway public opinion. Both sides no doubt felt they had arrived at their personal conviction about gay marriage independent of polls or public opinion.

When it came to the legal realities that affected same-sex marriage, however, public opinion became very important.

Public opinion will affect the future of the new immigration law in Arizona. The writer may feel personally that the law is a demonstrable infringement of civil rights, and that this conclusion is irrelevant of what public opinion might show. But public opinion is going to have a lot to do with how successful supporters and opponents of the law are in their attempt to either keep or remove the legislation going forward. And whether or not similar legislation gets passed in other states. And what happens at the national level as Congress considers new immigration legislation.

Plus -- don’t forget the interest factor. We often measure public opinion on issues simply because people like to know where their neighbors stand. Humans tend to assume that others share their beliefs and are often dumbfounded when confronted with evidence to the contrary. Objective data can help people view reality and see how their position stacks up against broad public opinion.

This line of thought made me think of O.J. As in O.J. Simpson. We and other pollsters did a great deal of polling relating to the former football star's murder trial. Obviously, public opinion across the nation had nothing legally to do with whether or not the sequestered jury in Los Angeles found Simpson guilty of murder. But the trial was headline news. It affected, or potentially could have affected, race relations. To find out what the average American thought about Simpson and the trial, we felt at the time, was an important contribution.

Follow up. My discussion here delved into last week's Gallup poll on the Arizona immigration law. As I discussed, our poll question did not attempt to describe the law. But rather asked about familiarity with the law, and then where people stood on it from what they know and have read.

Now comes a new The New York Times/CBS poll -- which did attempt to describe the complex law to respondents, in 63 words.

As you may know, the state of Arizona recently passed a law that gives police the power to question anyone they suspect is in the country illegally, requires people to produce documents verifying their status if asked, and allows officers to detain anyone who cannot do so. Do you think this law goes too far, doesn’t go far enough, or is about right?

The results showed that 51% of Americans, having heard this description, said that the law was about right, while another 9% said that it didn’t go far enough. Thirty-six percent said the law went too far. In other words, this poll, like the Gallup results, found a more positive than negative reaction to the Arizona law.


Anonymous said...
May 6, 2010 at 8:02 AM  

You totally missed the point from the reader's question ... which is amazing to me since you are supposed to be able to understand meaning of words put together in sentences.

The OBVIOUS point from the reader is: Public opinion should NOT EVER dictate who is, and is not, allowed to have guaranteed Constitutional equal rights.

Thus, public opinion should NEVER dictate laws on who gets Constitutional protections.

For example, NO ONE'S Equal Rights should be legislatively dictated by public opinion.

When it came to: Woman's right to vote, freedom for slaves, separate but equal, Blacks legal right to marry a white person, Black's rights to be educated the exact same as whites, passing a test to be eligible to vote, Blacks being allowed to adopt, Blacks & women being able to be employed, etc ... Public opinion SHOULD HAVE BEEN meaningless and a NON-ISSUE when it came to legislation on those topics.

With respect to the law in Arizona that specifically says any officer can stop, detain for any amount of time it takes to ask ANYONE - legally here or otherwise - for proof of citizenship IF that cop has, "REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN."

Notice these things:
1. The law does NOT say Reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed but, rather, "REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN."

2. The term: "alien" is not defined.

2. A Latin officer might think all Tea Party people and/or all white men over 60 look like "aliens." -

3. Women officers might think all light haired men with pale complexions look "alien."

4. Meaning, plenty of LEGAL citizens who "look" like aliens" will be forced to spend time to prove they are citizens and/or here legally. THUS: IF: one LEGAL person is detained for even 1 minute then that violates that LEGAL citizen's guaranteed 4th Amendment Constitutional rights.

... and YOU think public opinion should dictate which legal citizens are entitled to the 4th Amendment guarantee?

... and YOU think public opinion should be able to "sway" public opinion in a way that would dictate to law makers which LEGAL citizens are entitled to their 4th Amendment guaranteed Constitutional rights?

.... and you think law makers should follow polling data on which legal citizens are entitled to Constitutional rights as their litmus test on writing laws the could infringe on a LEGAL citizen's Constitutional rights?

Apparently YOU do think that legal citizens of the United States should have their Constitutional rights dictated by public opinion.

I have a suggestion for a new polling topic. Could you do a poll asking if Pollsters should have the right to poll people on which legal citizen of the United States should be guaranteed their Constitutional rights?

Could you also ask, should polling data dictate to lawmakers which legal citizen of the United States are entitled to their Constitutional rights?

I am very disappointed in anyone that thinks polling data should be a tool used for lawmakers when writing laws that could infringe on a legal citizen's Constitutional rights.

Anonymous said...
May 6, 2010 at 8:42 AM  

You left out a VERY IMPORTANT part of the New York Times/CBS poll.

#68) How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will lead to police officers detaining people of certain racial or ethnic groups more frequently than other racial or ethnic groups?
50% Very
32% Somewhat
11% Not too
3% DK/NA

... um... from this it looks like at least 82% think the law is a racial profiling law.
Is that Constitutional? Oh, that's right, the Supreme Court has already ruled that racial classifications in determining whom to stop, detain, and search" would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

.... hmmm... what if the pollster had put "detaining LEGAL citizens/people of certain ..."

... hmmm .... What if a pollster told respondents:
In the lawsuits - Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996).
United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456, 464 (1996) (quoting Oyler v. Boles, 368 U.S. 448, 456 (1962)).
Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 635 (7th Cir. 2001).
United States v. Avery, 137 F.3d 343, 355 (6th Cir. 1997).
Cf. Bush v. Vera, 517 U.S. at 968 (plurality
The Supreme Court ruled that "racial classifications in determining whom to stop, detain & search violates the US Constitution - Equal Protection Clause. Additionally, the Court said, "[i]f law enforcement adopts a policy, employs a practice, or in a given situation takes steps to initiate an investigation of a citizen based solely upon that citizen's race, without more, then a violation of the Equal Protection Clause has occurred."
... and the Court said, "to the extent that race is used as a proxy" for criminality, "a racial stereotype requiring strict scrutiny is in operation and violates the Constitutional Equal Protection Clause."

Knowing the Court's ruling against race being the factor in determining whom to stop, detain & search, Do you think the Arizona law would violate the Constitution Equal Protection Clause?

...hmmm... what if the pollster asked:
Do you think laws should be written based on "public opinion" or Constitutionality?

Anonymous said...
May 8, 2010 at 9:15 PM  

This is a perfect example tyranny of the majority. Civil rights of minority groups is usually never initially popular because well it is the minority that is affected. If the FBI and other state police were allowed to check white people to see if they came here illegally from Europe, this whole "public opinion" would be different.

TB said...
May 10, 2010 at 2:46 PM  

I think the confusion was regarding the outcome of the polls.
Many look at polls as a way to determine "good" from 'bad' when there is no clear consensus. Politicians will use polls when the result is agreeable to them, and often ignore that of which has results contrary to their opinion.
Many use polls today with the theory that proving fact is a democratic process- when politicians back up their arguments with 'facts" they will likely show you a poll.

But infringement of civil rights is not justifiable by public opinion.
If we were to take a poll regarding slavery in early America, we would likely find a large percentage of those supporting it- though we all know the practice was wrong and immoral. In this case, there is a clear right/wrong distinction that can be made, and does not change with public opinion.

The poll regarding the Arizona law asked if people supported that law, but did not do enough in determining people's opinions regarding civil rights. Along with public opinion on the law, you would do better to include what percentage of people -who have chosen a particular stance on the Arizona law- believe that security is more important than civil rights, or ask if they believe that the law violated civil rights at all.

Here is my suggestion on what would have made the poll more relevant.
Include all the original questions and poll results, but also include in the poll what percentage of people believe the law violated civil rights, or perhaps a poll regarding what percentage of people believe that these civil rights may be justifiably suspended in order to protect from potential dangers of illegal immigration.

it is important to know if people think the law is in accordance with civil rights, because the WHY people are against/for the law is not so black and white.

Anonymous said...
May 12, 2010 at 6:10 PM  

I do not have a problem with one's civil rights - what does that really mean. do you have a right to get funds from a state or country that is sinking in debt because you choose not to become legal. What right do you have to get paid but not pay taxes like the legal immigrants or born americans. Civil rights need to be examined - looks at the schools today. why do we fire teachers who try to teach and discipline these out of control students. The students are in control. The whole US is so worried about everyone's civil rights and we are going down the toilet. Look around. When did this country revert to pressing a one to hear the message in english. My grandparents were immigrants and they did it the right way. We are founded and grew with immigrants - but not the way we are handling it. Stop all this give-away and maybe those that really want to live here will get a green card and work and pay taxes instead of making the money and sending it out of the US. I am glad a state like Arizona that is drowning in debt and murders from immigrants took a stand. The rest of the US needs to keep their nose out of it - unless you live there with all their problems - stay out of it. Or go live there and then you have "Civil Right" to complain.

Anonymous said...
May 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM  

If there were a few million white European citizens in the US illegally, I would say "If a law officer stops someone under suspicion for breaking a law, he/she is to demand proof of legal residency from that person"....
I guess that means that I approve of Arizona's law. The law doesn't say they can just stop someon walking down the sidewalk with a bag of groceries and demand to see their "green card" or proof of citizenship. If, however, they capture someone suspected of burglary or rape, they MAY question them.
You can cry over this all you want, but the illegal Mexican who was in this town to avoid arrest in Mexico, stayed with his sister, and then raped and murdered her 4 year old daughter should not be allowed to scream for his rights as a citizen. Yes, it happened... Bay City, Texas...a few years ago ...4 or 5. You come down and live on the border and tell us we are racists! I am of Spanish heritage and want this state protected!

Telephone Answering Service said...
May 27, 2010 at 7:16 AM  

If you were to ask me my thoughts, I would say that I agree with the basic premise of the bill but things like requiring certain states/ districts to get JD approval before making any changes I am not so fond of.

I would also say that alot of people just don't really think of the bill. Its not hotly debated. For people not of that generation when this bill was an issue, it is just not something that is discussed.

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