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Voters Think Justice Department Motivated Mostly by Politics

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Most voters have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice and think it is more interested in politics than in serving justice. Voters are also strongly opposed to more federal control over their local police.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 38% of Likely U.S. Voters have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the Justice Department, while 53% view it unfavorably. This includes only nine percent (9%) with a Very Favorable view and 26% with a Very Unfavorable one. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Just 35% think the Justice Department is more concerned with making sure justice is done when it decides to investigate a local crime independent of local police. But 54% think instead that the Justice Department is more concerned with politics when it makes those decisions. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided. 

The Justice Department is currently investigating a white policeman's shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are now urging the Obama administration to appoint a federal “police czar” to oversee local law enforcement and prevent future incidents like this. But only 20% of voters favor federal control over local police departments. An overwhelming majority (74%) believes police departments should continue to be controlled by local authorities.

This distrust of the feds carries over into views of a planned new federal database to track “misinformation” and hate speech on the social media site Twitter. Thirty-five percent (35%) believe the federal government will use the database to go after real criminals, but 53% believe it will be used to monitor law-abiding citizens instead. Twelve percent (12%) are not sure.

Just 23% of voters trust the federal level of the criminal justice system the most. Thirty-six percent (36%) put their faith in local justice officials, while 20% trust the state level of justice the most. Twenty-one percent (21%) are undecided.

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The national telephone survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted by Rasmussen Reports on August 26-27, 2014. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Fieldwork for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Sixty percent (60%) of Americans believe the federal government plays too big a role in the lives of average Americans. Voters by a two-to-one margin consider the federal government a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector of their rights.

Consistent with other surveying of the Ferguson incident and law enforcement, there are sharp racial divides when it comes to federal investigations and overseeing local police. Black voters (64%) are twice as likely as whites (32%) and other minority voters (33%) to think that the Justice Department is more interested in making sure justice is done when it investigates local crimes. Fifty-six percent (56%) of whites and 57% of other minority voters think Justice is motivated mainly by politics.

Sixty percent (60%) of blacks favor federal control of local police departments, compared to just 14% of whites and 20% of other minority voters.

While the investigation continues, most black Americans (57%) are already convinced that the Ferguson police officer should be found guilty of murder, a view shared by just 17% of whites and 24% of other minority adults.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Democrats believe the Justice Department is mainly interested in justice. Seventy-two percent (72%) of Republicans and 56% of voters not affiliated with either major party think its chief motivation is politics. There is a nearly identical divide when it comes to the new database to monitor comments on Twitter: Most Democrats think it will be used to go after real criminals, while most GOP and unaffiliated voters believe it will be used to keep an eye on law-abiding citizens.

Generally speaking, the older the voter, the more skeptical he or she is of Justice Department investigations into local crimes and a national database for misinformation and hate speech.

Just 24% of all voters have a favorable opinion of Attorney General Eric Holder, while 43% view him unfavorably.

The Justice Department continues to challenge state laws that require voters to bring photo identification to the polls, even though most voters for years have strongly supported such laws and don't consider them discriminatory. Even 64% of blacks support such laws.

Fifty percent (50%) of Americans think it is at least somewhat likely that the government has monitored their Internet activity or the activity of a member of their family.

Forty-six percent (46%) think the U.S. justice system is fair to black and Hispanic Americans, but 36% disagree. However, 80% of black voters think the system is unfair to minorities.

Most Americans (57%) say the tactics used by local law enforcement are about right. Fifty-one percent (51%) think America needs more cops.

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

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