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Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 31, 2011

White people can surprise you sometimes

Here’s a fun factoid that surprised me when I discovered it: 60% of white Americans think that the best approach to lowering the crime rate is attacking social problems, not tougher law enforcement.

The exact question:

Which of the following approaches to lowering the crime rate in the United States comes closer to your own view–do you think more money and effort should go to attacking the social and economic problems that lead to crime through better education and job training or more money and effort should go to deterring crime by improving law enforcement with more prisons, police, and judges?

A fuller demographic breakdown is at the source, but here are the white/black numbers:

                   social problems            law enforcement
    white               60%                          35
    black               85                           12

 

Black opinion is obviously a lot more enlightened on this question than white, but a 60% majority with a 25-point gap in favor of decency is a very pleasant surprise. (The language is also not the most favorable to evoking a civilized response: “spending more money” is right out there, and it’s not easy argue with “improving.”) The results do make you wonder what the fuck people are thinking when they vote.

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Responses

  1. >The results do make you wonder what the fuck people are thinking when they vote.

    Or, it goes without saying, what they’re thinking when they opt out of spending a whole ten minutes or whatever to go to the local polling site to vote.

    For my part, I’m *still* trying to grasp how Governor Chris Christie won in New Jersey. Is the Archie Bunker contingent really so vast, in this state??

  2. The true silent majority is beginning to emerge.

  3. Why would you be surprised by this? Most white people aren’t racist reactionaries or authoritarians (despite what some progressives think).

  4. Anti-Racism in U.S. History: The First Two Hundred Years (Contributions in American History) [Paperback]Many books, both popular and scholarly, have examined racism in the United States, but this unique volume is the first to examine the existence of anti-racism in the first two hundred years of U.S. history. Herbert Aptheker challenges the view that racism was universally accepted by whites. His book thoroughly debunks the myth that white people never cared about the plight of African-Americans until just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Covering the period from the 1600s through the 1860s, Aptheker begins with a short introduction and a questioning of racism’s pervasiveness, taking examples of anti-racism from the literature. He then devotes sections to sexual relations, racism and anti-racism, to joint struggles to reject racism, and to a discussion of Gregoire, Banneker, and Jeffersonianism. Next he considers “inferiority” as viewed by poets, preachers, and teachers and by entrepreneuers, seamen, and cowboys. After a consideration of the Quakers, he turns his attention to the American and French revolutions and racism and to the Republic’s early years and racism. Aptheker then devotes several sections to Abolitionism and concludes the work with the “the Crisis Decade,” the Civil War, Emancipation, and anti-racism. This book by a well-known scholar in the field will be of interest to all concerned with U.S. history and African American history.

  5. If Larry Bartels is right, most voters are effectively thinking “How much did the economy grow for quintiles above my own over the last 12 months?”

  6. “The results do make you wonder what the fuck people are thinking when they vote.”

    You mean when they have to decide between a tough-on-crime Republican and a tough-on-crime Democrat?

  7. In re voting:

    a) In most elections, most people don’t vote;

    b) &/or, it won’t make much difference who wins anyway, so it won’t make much difference for whom I vote?

  8. As noam chomsky says, oftentimes there’s an inverse relationship between public opinion and official policy!

  9. Maybe this is a part of the Thomas Frank idea that he (may have?) missed–that right wingers benefit more from non-voting than from getting people to vote Republican on social issues? Which is to say, anecdotally, I know many people who would vote left-wing generally, but don’t vote at all because the only “left-wing” issues the Dems care about are the social ones that are actually marginal issues to most people. If the liberal left seems to only care about teaching evolution and Organic farming and the like, average folks won’t really be enthused to vote. Perhaps that’s the greater propaganda acheivement of the “culture wars”

  10. Yes, that seems like a fair restatement of the _What’s the Matter with Kansas_ argument, and it seems pretty salient here. It also seems important that the poll is framed as a question about “lowering the crime rate.” Doesn’t the question discourage respondents from thinking about punishment, retributive justice, paternalism, etc., that is from giving voice to the real psychological motivations that hide behind the fig-leaf of deterrence?

  11. John, that’s a really insightful point.


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