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40% Now Say Trayvon Martin Shot in Self-Defense; 24% Say It Was Murder

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

As evidence continues to emerge from the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, Americans are becoming more convinced that his killer acted in self-defense and that the legal system will come to that conclusion.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 24% of American Adults still believe the man who shot Martin should be found guilty of murder. But that’s down from 33% in late March when the case first began to draw national headlines and 30% in early April.

Forty percent (40%) now think George Zimmerman, who has been charged with second degree murder in the Martin shooting, acted in self-defense. That’s up 25 points from 15% in March and up 16 points from 24% last month. Thirty-six percent (36%) remain undecided, compared to 55% two months ago. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Interestingly, 47% of black adults still feel Zimmerman should be found guilty of murdering the black teenager, compared to 55% in March. Now nearly as many blacks (40%) think Zimmerman acted in self-defense. Whites and adults of other races tend to believe the shooter acted in self-defense, but there is a much higher level of uncertainty among both groups than there is among blacks.

Only 20% of all adults now think Zimmerman will be found guilty of murder, down 13 points from 33% in April just after he was officially charged. Thirty-nine percent (39%) believe the legal system will determine that he acted in self-defense, up from 25% last month. Forty-one percent (41%), however, still are not sure.

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The survey of 1,000 Adults nationwide was conducted on May 19-20, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) of Americans favor the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to investigate the Martin shooting as a possible hate crime. But a plurality (45%) is opposed to the Justice Department investigation. Sixteen percent (16%) are not sure about it.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of adults correctly recognize that the victim of the shooting was black. Sixty-five percent (65%) know that the shooter is Hispanic, but 20% still incorrectly believe he is white. Recognition that Martin was black and Zimmerman Hispanic continues to rise with each survey.

But Americans aren’t following the story quite as closely as they were previously. Sixty-seven percent (67%) say they are following news about the shooting incident in Florida at least somewhat closely, with 33% who are following Very Closely. But the overall figure is down from 78% in the two previous surveys.

Blacks continue to follow the Martin story more closely than whites and those of other races.

Men believe more strongly than women that Zimmerman acted in self-defense and that the legal system will come to that conclusion.

Blacks are now almost evenly divided over what the legal system will decide, while whites and adults of other races tend to believe it will determine that the shooter acted in self-defense.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of blacks support the Justice Department’s decision to investigate the shooting as a possible hate crime, but 50% of whites think it’s a bad idea. Adults of other races favor the investigation by a 42% to 36% margin.

Forty-eight percent (48%) of all adults think criminals should be prosecuted more severely if it can be proved that their crime was motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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