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Axios-Ipsos poll: Americans have no confidence in equal justice

Data: Axios/Ipsos Poll; Note: 2.8% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Solid majorities of Americans across all racial groups do not believe either the police or the criminal justice courts treat all people equally, according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll.

The big picture: The poll shows a resounding lack of confidence in the basic principle of equal justice under the law — a sign that systemic racism throughout the criminal justice system is still a widely acknowledged crisis a year after George Floyd was killed by police, sparking nationwide protests.

By the numbers: Nearly six out of 10 respondents — 59% — disagreed with the statement "police treat all Americans equally," while 58% said the same about criminal justice courts and lawyers.

  • Black Americans gave the system an especially strong vote of no confidence, with 84% disagreeing that police treat people equally and 76% saying the same about the courts.
  • But 53% of white Americans, 62% of Hispanic Americans and 67% of Asian Americans also disagreed that police treat everyone equally, while 55% of white Americans and Asian Americans and 56% of Hispanic Americans voiced a lack of confidence in the courts.
  • That lack of faith extended across virtually all other groups, including by gender, age, region, urban/suburban/rural residency, and education and income levels.
  • The only hint of confidence in the police came from Republicans, with 51% saying police treat everyone equally (only 7% of Democrats and 18% of independents agreed). Just 42% of Republicans said the courts treat everyone equally.

Between the lines: Most Americans still have a positive view of the police, regardless of how they feel about equal justice. But that's not true of Black Americans — nearly six out of 10 (57%) said they have unfavorable views of the police and law enforcement.

  • And Black Americans are the one group that doesn't believe the police are looking out for them. When asked how well the police look out for "people like you," just 29% of Black Americans said the police look out for them well, while 68% said not well.
  • That's the reverse of every other group: 71% overall, including 83% of white respondents, 60% of Hispanic respondents and 61% of Asian respondents, said the police look out for them well.

The poll found that no majority of any group supported the "defund the police" movement, but 57% overall supported diverting some police funding to community policing and social services — which is what most supporters of the movement actually mean.

  • And solid majorities of all groups support increasing independent oversight over police, like requiring shootings by police officers to be investigated by an independent authority and creating civilian oversight boards.

When Americans face the courts, the poll found a large gap in their experiences, with Black and Hispanic Americans more likely to depend on court-ordered attorneys than other groups.

  • 43% of white Americans and 52% of Asian Americans said they've had their own attorneys when they or a family member has had to appear in court.
  • By contrast, just 29% of Black Americans and 39% of Hispanic Americans had their own lawyers, while 49% of Black Americans and 43% of Hispanic Americans had court-ordered attorneys.
  • That's important because public defenders are widely considered to be overworked and underfunded, and because researchers have become concerned in recent years that some public defenders might have their own forms of implicit bias.

There's also a deep divide between white and Black Americans on whether a wealthy Black person would get better treatment from the criminal justice system than a poor white person.

  • White Americans were more likely to say a wealthy Black person would get better treatment, 40% to 23%, while Black respondents disagreed, 52% to 20%. Hispanic and Asian respondents were more evenly divided.

Methodology: This Axios/Ipsos poll was conducted April 28-May 4 by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,875 general population adults age 18 or older.

  • The margin of sampling error is ±2.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.

Go deeper: Axios-Ipsos poll: Black Americans' police experiences are getting worse

📺 Coming up on "Axios on HBO" this Sunday at 6pm ET/PT: Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras and managing editor for politics Margaret Talev dig deeper into exclusive poll results. Tune in on HBO Max.

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