Some American Public Opinion in Spring 2015.

Standardized testing has been all the rage among educational reformers for more than a decade.[1] Only 20 percent of Americans think that it has done more good than harm to the students or the schools; 49 percent think that it has done more harm than good; and 31 percent “don’t know.” However, “don’t know” isn’t one of the options on a standardized test. Would it count as a correct answer if it was an option?

Americans frequently “don’t know” where they stand on public issues, but that isn’t the case with gay marriage. Today 61 percent favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry.[2] Opposition to gay marriage rallies 35 percent. That leaves just 4 percent who don’t know.

Reading the statistics above can obscure, rather than clarify, where Americans stand on the issue. Liberal media and public figures heaped abuse on Indiana’s “religious freedom” law on the grounds that it permitted discrimination against gays. Polls revealed that 49 percent of Americans agreed with the law’s critics. However, 47 percent believed that wedding-related businesses should be able to refuse their services to gay couples. Naturally, the vast majority of the dissenters were Republicans (68 percent), but a third of Democrats (33 percent) also supported business’ “right to choose.”[3]

Support for capital punishment has been slipping in America in recent decades. In 1988, 78 percent favored the death penalty for murder. In 2015, 56 percent support the death penalty for murder. Slightly more of the nation, 60 percent, supports imposing the death penalty on Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber.[4] However, opposition to the death penalty is stronger among some groups than among other groups. Thus California juries are more willing to assign someone the death penalty than are California judges to allow the penalty to be carried out. Currently, there are 751 people on death row in California, but there have been no executions in almost ten years.[5] In a remarkable demonstration of core values, in early April 2015, 62 percent of Boston voters favored sentencing Dzhokar Tsarnaev to life in prison, rather than to death, if/when he was convicted for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing.[6]

The following is no new thing, but it has come to the attention of white America as a reasonable possibility. While 61 percent of all Americans express “great” or “fair” confidence in their local police, the number plummets to 36 percent among African-Americans.[7] That means that 39 percent don’t feel “great” or “fair” confidence in their local police. Who are these people? They can’t all be members of the ACLU. Since African-Americans make up about 11 percent of the population, that would suggest that 7-8 percent of the American population (the two-thirds of the 11 percent who are African-American) lack “great” or “fair” confidence in their local police. If 39 percent of Americans over-all lack “great” or “fair” confidence in their local police, then 31-32 percent of Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic Americans also lack “great” or “fair” confidence in their local police. The crisis of confidence in local police reaches far beyond high school students rioting in Baltimore when they should be in study hall.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 3 April 2015, p. 15.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 8 May 2015, p. 17. Of course the phrasing of the statement allows for the comic possibility that many Americans think that gay men want to marry lesbians. “Marriage means one man and one woman.”   So that would be—you know—OK.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 17 April 2015, p. 17.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 1 May 2015, p. 17.

[5] The Week, 10 April 2015, p. 14.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 3 April 2015, p. 15.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 8 May 2015, p. 17.

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