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

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

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. 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 |
  2. 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 |
  3. Kathleen in Oregon

    I am very proud of My President!! He was able to difuse a very tense situation that could have made the racial splits in this country even wider. I hope that we all learned that when poeple who disagree with each other sit down and talk, in most cases, they will be able to work out a solution. Remember, as Ghandi put it, revenge makes us all blind.
    Now, we need to get back to health care.

    August 4, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  4. Open Minded

    Obama – could have waited for all the facts before speaking

    Gates – could have held his temper and been little more cooperative

    Police – should have presented Gates with the ability to prove residency.

    The fact remains that sometimes things get said in the heat of passion no matter what the race. Wrongly accused, arrested, convicted and even put to death people have been apprehended by the police (of all race).

    People make comments without all the facts.

    We do not live in a perfect world, but we do live in the FREE WORLD.

    So before you make any comment, think how all this could have been avoided......

    August 4, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  5. TCM

    When doesn't Obama act stupidly? OR reckless with our money or country's reputation...? What exactly, has Obama or this administration done that's positive for this country? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

    August 4, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. Tom Paine

    You have to ask? Obama had no business getting involved in a local law enforcement matter – on behalf of one of his buddies, no less – and turning it into "profiling" with no facts and apparently no concern for anyone but himself.

    Any other president would have been beaten up by the media...but not the Obamessiah.

    August 4, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |

    Obama is a stupid person, all of his policies are stupid.

    August 4, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  8. troubled

    Absolutely yes!

    August 4, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  9. David

    SLM, Regardless if he stuck his nose in without knowing allthe facts, it does not change the fact that you cannot arrest someone for breaking into their own home. Therefore the officer was in the wrong because specifically no crime had been committed. Ergo the officer did cact stupidly in a fit of rage and revenge because he got a verbal lashing from an educated man. The fact the man was black incited the officer even more. Look at this from a question of logic and not emotion. If the officer was so rigth why did he drop the charges? The police dont do that. Again I ask logically what crime did gates commit? The President was in an impossible situation. He could not do nothing. If he did all his minority supporters would be screaming bloody murder. and If he speaks which he did, white America screams bloody murder. The fact is that racism is alive and well no matter what you think, and until we admit that ugly truth we can never move past it!!!!!!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  10. Karin Willis

    No not at all. It just shows you how injustice that the US are because racial profile happens so often. It is terrible in the world today that Blacks have to question whether or not is racial profiling. United States still have a long way to go. There was an incident of a friend (race: white) of mine whose daughter was smoking marijuana in the woods with her friends they came out of the woods and seen the police and they ran the opposite way. The police called my friend at home (because my friend's car was parked where it should not have been and was able to run the license to call her.) The police told my friend to call her daughter on her cell phone who is running to come back or she will be arrested. The girl came back to car and was smacked on hand and given to her parents. Do you think that a black girl or boy with their friends would have the same outcome?

    August 4, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  11. Vexorg

    I actually think a lot of people would have respected Obama if he had come out and said that he "acted stupidly" by responding in the way he did.

    August 4, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  12. liberal in maine

    No. he spoke his mind and from the black experience.
    Most importantly it has brought all the parties together.
    gates, Crowley and Obama have met over a guys beer. gates and crowley have agreed to meet again. gates has sent whalen roses and a thank you.

    These 4 people are moving forward i hope the rest of us can do the same.

    August 4, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. John

    Here is the problem, there are some people who should be police officers but are not and there are police officers that should not be in law enforcement.

    The question is this, If Prof. Gates gave his ID to the police officer and the police officer still treated him like a suspect even after learning that Prof. Gates lived there then the officer did act stupidly.

    On the other hand if Prof. Gates refused to show his ID to the officer then Prof. Gates acted stupidly.

    A person DOES have a right to voice their opinions and thoughts even if that person is yelling it at a police officer. Officer Crowley arrested Prof. Gates because his feelings were hurt. Many police officers like Crowely would just love to arrest civilians who voices their opinions about the the lack of professionalism amongst police officers.

    Lack of professionalism in law enforcement can be found in everywhere in this country. For example there is a huge lack of professionalism with the north district in Jersey City, NJ; particualrly with the officer who is in charge of that police station. This person would do the exact same thing as Crowely. I ran into someone who wanted to file a police report because his wallet was stolen, but did not have a descrpition of the suspect. Any way, this officer discouraged the person from filing a police report and when the victim in a clam voice stated he was going to report his loack of co-operation; the officer got angry and threated to arrest the victim.

    Racisim still and does exist in America.

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  14. Hannah Stevens

    We are so divided in this country and we will continue to be as long as we have religion, political parties, men and women... as long as no one brings up the point that we are more alike than we are different. We basically all want the same thing, good jobs paying enough to raise our families, peace in the world no more illegal wars, good education for our children, crime free cities, a clean environment in which to live... The middle class that is. The wealthy take advantage of the the middle class and at this point we are slaves onto them. But that is the change we nedd and President Obama is going to bring that change to our country.

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  15. Doug

    Simply put, yes. Professor gates and Obama made it a racial thing. The cop di his job , investigating a reported potential crime. Isn't that what the Cambridge police pay him to do? Would the Professor rather they never investigated anything at his house or neighborhood?

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  16. Stu-Florida

    He may have let his emotions get in the way due to not only a friendship, but probably some sort of similar event that happened to him... as well as many others.
    Otherwise he hit the nail on the head. Racism is deeply embedded
    in this country.
    People are people, plain and simple...
    The whites need to get off their high horses.
    PS... I'm white and former repub...

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  17. wagon

    Obama spoke before he knew the facts. Kinda like how he deals with health care reform.

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  18. Andrew

    What he said was accurate, but people don't want their president to voice unwelcome truths.

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  19. Carol

    Obama acted stupidly. First he said he did not know all the facts. The next statement would have been, so no comments. But he went ahead to take sides on the matter. How can you say the police acted stupidly, when you admit not knowing all the facts? So in my opinion, Obama acted stupidly, not the police.

    August 4, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  20. D. Tree

    Obama did not act stupidly, but then again I agree with the President that it was stupid to arrest an innocent man in his own home.

    The people who used the comment to make headlines and attack the President acted truly stupid – it took attention away from the much more important reason for the President's press conference: Health Care Reform.

    Being distracted by sensationalist stories is "stupid."

    August 4, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  21. Jerry in Florida

    Not only did NObama act stupidly, he's so full of it that he will never apologize for his stupid comments and lies. This is definitely not the way to handle race relations. And of course, most blacks are so proud that they will forgive NObama no matter what idiotic things he says or does.

    Don't forget the love fest with news media. It still continues. I guess now they really have no choice.

    However, there's light at the end of the tunnel. A significant number of Americans that supported NObama are starting to see through the haze, not only as it relates to the President, but also as it relates to a significant number of idiotic, high-ranking elected officials.

    Americans, please keep that light shining!

    Stay tuned!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  22. scott

    President Obama did not act stupidly. A White police officer arrested a Black Man who was breaking into his own home that he owned! Professor Gates Neighbor was so incredibly oblivious that she did know her own neighbor. This is just a case of typical american stupid racism, which goes both ways!

    August 4, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  23. Obama Victim

    stooooopid is as stooooopid does,,,,,,,,,,for you libs......that is a YES

    August 4, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  24. bs, baltimore

    disorderly conduct can be in your home if it is enough to disturb the peace around you. i think people need to stop talking out of turn about things they are not aware of. it seems odd that you could be disorderly in your own home, but you can.

    i think the president responded as a friend would and not the way the president should. i think he was correct when he stated that he further fanned the flames with his comment and the beer summit was meant to put out some of those flames.

    Hypothetically, if Gates had handed over his Id and explained to the officer what was happening, do you really think he would have been arrested. Do we as a society think that it is acceptable to disrespect authority regardless of what color we are? I am inclined to think that this officer based upon his reputation among his fellow officers whom are black, that he would not have arrested Dr. Gates without a reason to do so.

    as an attorney, i agree that racial profiling does exist as well as bad cops. however, not every arrest of a black individual is racial profiling. it bothers me profusely to hear that used when race is not even an issue. although i dont speak for the white race, those falsely making complaints of racial profiling make it harder for some to believe the legitimate complaints of the same. an abundance of false allegations start to make people think all allegations are false.

    August 4, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  25. Mike in Texas

    Yes POTUS acted stupidly.
    1) It wasn't something the president should have been involved. in.
    2) He didn't know the facts. He was guessing based on his own biases, just like everyone else was at the time.
    3) His comments, right or wrong, lessened the authority of the police, which was also stupid.
    4) He has also demonstrated that he is incapable of actually admitting he was wrong.

    August 4, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
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