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Voters Question Justice Department’s Motives, Powers

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The U.S. Justice Department has charged the Ferguson, Missouri police department with a systematic pattern of racial discrimination but stopped short of charging police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown. Exiting Attorney General Eric Holder wants to make it easier for the Justice Department to prosecute civil rights complaints.

But just 14% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is too hard now for the Justice Department to charge people with civil rights violations. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 39% believe it is already too easy for Justice to make such charges, while 32% say the current legal standard is about right. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Part of the skepticism may be due to the fact that 56% think the Justice Department is more concerned with politics than with making sure justice is done when it decides to investigate a local crime like the Brown shooting independent of the local police. Thirty-four percent (34%) say the Justice Department is more interested in making sure justice is done, but 10% more are not sure.

This marks little change from last August just after the Justice Department began its independent civil rights investigation of Ferguson and the Brown shooting. 

Still, 50% of voters regard the Justice Department as a protector of the legal rights of most Americans. Thirty-eight percent (38%) consider it a threat to those legal rights. Twelve percent (12%) are not sure.

By comparison, just 20% now consider the overall federal government a protector of individual liberty. Sixty percent (60%) see the government as a threat to individual liberty instead.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on March 2-3, 2015 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.

Holder remains one of the best-known but least popular members of President Obama’s Cabinet.  By a 47% to 28 margin, voters believe Holder is more interested in politics than in administering justice in a fair way.

The Senate is expected to confirm former federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general, but voters don’t want her to be like Holder.

Voters have a more favorable view of the Justice Department now than they did six months ago. Forty-eight percent (48%) view the department at least somewhat favorably, up from 38% in August. Nearly as many (46%) still share an unfavorable opinion, but that compares to 53% in the earlier survey. The latest findings include just 10% with a Very Favorable view of the Justice Department and 22% with a Very Unfavorable one.

Surprisingly, unlike most issues related to the police and the legal system, there is little racial difference of opinion when it comes to the Justice Department. Blacks are only slightly more likely than whites and other minority voters to consider the department a protector of the legal rights of most Americans.

Black voters are twice as likely as white and other minority voters to believe it is too hard now for the Justice Department to charge people with civil rights violations. But still over 60% of blacks view it as too easy or think the legal standard is about right.

Sixty-six percent (66%) of Democrats view the Justice Department favorably. Fifty-three percent (53%) of Republicans and 55% of voters not affiliated with either major party do not. The identical number (66%) of Democrats sees the Justice Department as a protector of the legal rights of most Americans, but just 39% of GOP voters and 42% of unaffiliateds agree.

Most Republicans think it’s too easy now for the Justice Department to charge people with civil rights violations. Unaffiliated voters tend to agree, while Democrats are more likely to believe the current standard is about right.

Just 12% of all voters believe the actions of the U.S. government today represent the desires of most Americans. An overwhelming 81% think the government is more responsive to special interest groups.  

Voters aren’t convinced that black Americans are treated unfairly by the police.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of black voters and 56% of other minority voters now consider the justice system unfair to black and Hispanic Americans, while 54% of white voters view the system as fair to these minorities.

Americans still believe most of their fellow countrymen aren’t racist but think race relations in this country have taken a decided turn for the worse.

Only eight percent (8%) of voters think race relations are better since Obama’s election in 2008, and unlike many questions dealing with race, blacks and whites don’t disagree much on this one. 

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

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