August 4th, 2009
06:52 PM ET
5 years ago

CNN Poll: Did Obama act stupidly in Gates arrest comments?

President Obama said 'the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody'.
President Obama said 'the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody'.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A new national poll indicates that white and black Americans don't see eye to eye on last month's arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released Tuesday, also suggests a racial divide over President Barack Obama's initial comments on the incident.

Fifty-four percent of those questioned in the poll say they don't think Cambridge, Massachusetts police office James Crowley acted stupidly when he arrested Gates at the professor's home after Crowley responded to a call that someone was breaking into the house. One in three say they think Crowley did act stupidly. But there's a major racial divide, with 59 percent of black respondents saying that Crowley acted stupidly compared to 29 percent of whites questioned.

Just over half of those polled feel that Gates acted stupidly, with three in 10 saying no. Broken down by race, 58 percent of whites say Gates acted stupidly, with African-Americans split on the question.

The arrest sparked a national discussion on the issue of racial profiling, which was amplified when President Obama weighed in on the matter. In a prime time news conference last month, Obama said "the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."


Two days later, after criticism from police unions and after speaking with Crowley, Obama attempted to defuse the dustup. "Because this has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. (James) Crowley specifically, and I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sgt. Crowley."

Fifty-four percent of those questioned say they think the president acted stupidly when the commented on the Gates arrest, with 32 percent disagreeing. But again, the poll indicates a racial divide, with more than six out of 10 whites feeling Obama acted stupidly but just one in four black respondents agreeing.

Six out of 10 approve of how the president's handled race relations, with nine out of ten African-Americans and 56 percent of whites approving.

Did Obama's initial comments damage his political standing?

"One-third of whites say that Obama's comments about this matter made them feel less favorable toward him, compared to only four percent of whites who feel more favorably toward Obama due to his comments," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But the majority of whites say that Obama's comments did not affect their views of him, and most whites approve of how Obama is handling race relations."

Fifty-two percent of Americans feel racism among police officers is common, with 44 percent saying it's rare. Whites are split on that question, with 86 percent of black respondents feeling racism among police offices is common.

Two-thirds of whites say that a white homeowner would have been arrested for the same behavior. Only a quarter of blacks agree.
"That difference may be due to life experiences - more than half of blacks say they have been treated unfairly by the police because of their race but only a handful of whites report the same kind of treatment," adds Holland.

The poll indicates that both blacks and whites believe that Friday's beer summit at the White House was a good idea. But was it a "teachable moment," as mentioned by the president?

"Not according to the public - blacks and whites agree that the whole controversy did not teach Americans a lesson that will lead to better race relations," says Holland.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Friday through Monday, 7/31-8/3, with 1,136 adult Americans - including 226 African-Americans and 773 whites - questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the overall sample and plus or minus 6.5 percentage points for the breakdown by race.

Click here for full results (pdf)


Filed under: Extra • President Obama
soundoff (304 Responses)
  1. FD

    Obama should apologize to all law enforcement.

    August 4, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  2. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    LET IT GO.... it's not news any more..... ENOUGH ALREADY

    August 4, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  3. DwayneL

    The only ones acting "stupidly" here were Obama and Gates! The police did their job like they would normally do with no regards to race. In fact, I saw the black policeman in the picture and he confirmed that they acted properly.

    August 4, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  4. Bea

    we all act stupidly once in a while.....no one is perfect.

    August 4, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  5. JP

    How soon we forget. The standard for stupid was set by the lasr administration.

    August 4, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  6. m jeff

    This is old news, time to move on.

    August 4, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  7. Chester Drawers

    I think if 46 percent of the respondents think the cop acted stupidly, it was stupid. On your next traffic stop would you want a nearly 50-50 chance the cop will act stupid?

    August 4, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  8. swin5

    Obama didn't act stupidly. Obama was just acting Obama.

    August 4, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  9. bush league

    Yes. while I continue to be a strong Obama supporter, I am nonetheless surprised and disappointed both at the President's careless and offensive comment and his subsequent failure to issue a clear and complete apology to the police.

    August 4, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  10. YES

    Yes Obama Acted stupid he made a fool out of himself he should have just kept his mouth shut, there are more serious manners that he needs to worry about,

    August 4, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  11. SLM

    Yes, Obama stuck his nose where it didn't belong. He admitted he didn't know anything about the case and yet he made that comment that will haunt him for years to come.

    August 4, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  12. JOE

    No. The President did not act stupidly. He reacted as a friend of the Professor. THE PROFESSOR SHOULD SUE THE COP FOR FALSE ARREST. There will be a thousand white lawyers on his door step within one hour of the announcement, and the lawyers will do it for free.

    August 4, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  13. Leroy Stephens

    Absolutely!!
    He is as quilty as Gates and the officer
    and the more this is stired the more it will stink.

    August 4, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. Sebastian

    Having been raised in a big city, I been exposed to more than most. That includes unprofessional law enforcemnet officers and, friends from every walk of life. I am typicaly inclined to side with the civilian who had an encounter with a cop.
    That being said, I am appaled that the President would give such a response without all of the facts. And in such a public setting!?!?
    There are two Americas. We see things differently. This instance is very telling and sad.

    August 4, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  15. zisee

    Yes, Obama, reaction was wrong, especially for the President of the United States. Then the beerfest. Wow, is that he has to do with his time, drink beer. He should concentrate on the health care system, he is messing it up so bad. Ugh.

    August 4, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  16. Badger

    Yes he did act stupidly. I like the president, but for him to be (race) baited into commenting prematurely wasn't too bright. If the professor was so mad at the police officer for doing his job he felt the need to be belligerent then he deserve to be arrested.

    August 4, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  17. ISB

    Barack Hussein Obama; examine his body language, his gestures and speeches which demonstrates that he suffers from NPD, or 'narcissistic personality disorder'. Narcissists are people who project a grandiose but false image of themselves. They can be and often are, dangerous people.

    August 4, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  18. Carolyn

    A man in his position should make sure he has all the facts before he makes a public remark. What he says in private is his business

    August 4, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  19. Sam In Texas

    Absolutely not. Actually the media turned this situation into a circus. Since the election of President Obama every single thing he say or does has been scruinized in some capacity. This does not surprises me. We must let the President be the President and respect him just as we have respected Presidents of the past. There are no perfect individual regardless what capacity of professionalism we exist.

    August 4, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  20. Ed Henson

    President Obama called it as he saw it. He said everything was OK up until the arrest. It was the arrest that was stupid. You don't arrest a man on his own porche for disorderly conduct, why because your authority is challenged. Would Henry Kissenger, Larry Summers, or Alan Dershowitz all current or former Harvard professors been arrested under similar circumstances of course not. Sgt Crawley would have had a lot more to answer for than just a false police report. Had that been the case. As a matter of fact what about the police report. You have a lot of people treating the report as the holy gospel, when the facts have been distorted. The last I heard the Cambridge Police dept is standing by the report. Now that's stupid.

    August 4, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  21. HB

    The president uttered a stupid and unfortunate quote. Gates and Crowley acted similarly by overreacting in the first place. But .... Obama apologized for his blunder and the Beer Summit sort of diffused the situation. No one was killed or hurt.

    Alas, apparently this was just anti-climactic for the media who presumably anticipated a re-run of the LA riots. That's why this is dragged on and on, with 'clever' tactics like this stupid poll to milk the public for more attention. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but most of us moved on. Go find another hornet's nest.

    August 4, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. Dave Nettles

    Yes, Obama acted stupidly and yes, it's going to cost him. The highest post in the land and the leader of the Free world says our police acted stupidly. Has the post fallen that low that he feels it required to even make a comment. I think the handwriting is on the wall which way our country is headed. A sad day indeed.

    August 4, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  23. A. Lane

    Prof. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct. Sgt. Crowely didn't have a warrant to enter his home, therefor, regardless of w/not Prof. Gates was disrespectful, Sgt. Crowely had no right to enter his home or to arrest Prof. Gates. Sgt. Crowely established that there was no 'breaking and entering' once Prof. Gates showed his I.D. To ask him to step outside was not needed. When Prof. Gates insisted as such and Sgt. Crowely arrested him, he literally crossed the line and broke the law himself by going against the constitutional rights of Prof. Gates.

    August 4, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  24. Amy

    I voted for Obama in November, but after seeing his racial preferences and quick judgement, not to mention his disrespect to law enforcement, I will have to say that I will reconsider my vote come 2012.

    August 4, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  25. willie

    Gates, Crowley and Obama were all wrong in this matter. The only one to be commended is the 911 caller. Why? Lets look at the facts: Gates was not cooperative with the police at the time of his arrest. Crowley could have took the high road like police are trained to do. Crowley police report stated two black men. The 911 caller did not report this and the question remains how did Crowley come up with this in his report? Maybe this is one of the reasons charges were dropped against Gates. President Obama should never prejudge any person, institution or group before knowing all the facts. 911 caller seen what looked like a break in and reported what she saw. She is the every day citizen that the country should be proud of. If you take sides in this matter you are part of the problem not the solution. But sadly the majority of whites will side with the police and the majority of blacks will side with Gates. The best thing is not to talk/comment about race in America until there is no white side or black side just wrong or wright. That day my friend may never come>>>>>>

    August 4, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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