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. independent

    No, he did not act stupidly.

    Everyone seems to forget that he, the President alone, was the only person who, from the outside, said this may or may not have had a racial issue involved. That's what he said at the outset.

    He said it was stupid, whether or not there were any racial overtones involved. He is the only person who said that. Everyone else, including the Media, took the incident, and the President's comments as racially influence.

    Go back and look at the quote of the President, instead of listening to talk radio.

    August 4, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  2. Keeth in California

    Yes. Period. Now, can we move on please?

    August 4, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  3. Jose

    It is a question he probably should have taken a pass on and formed a better answer but hey he's human just like the rest of us. The thing is, it at least got people discussing the issue and for this country, that's a good thing.

    August 4, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  4. randy in pa

    Never give your opinion until you know the facts. Simple!

    August 4, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  5. barb

    Obama showed he is both a ellitist and predudist,

    August 4, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  6. JJC722

    Yes he did act stupid! Its not his concern, he needs to worry about the bad job he is doing. He is the President, not GOD who cares about what he thinks.

    August 4, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  7. LIP

    Well, lets see. President Obama (bi-racial) says Crowley acted stupidily and never really retracted that statement nor apologized for it. So with that, one would expect that at least most blacks would agree with him and it appears that they do.
    Due to his inappropriately timed remarks without the facts, he has contributed to the racial divide enormously..

    August 4, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  8. waheid

    To say Obama acted stupidly is a little strong. He certainly acted unwisely. He immediately ticked off every police officer (plus wives, parents, children, etc.) in the U.S., which is not a smart thing to do politically. I suspect that his political advisers were apoplectic. At the same time, he did little or nothing to build credibility among the African-American community. In my judgement, Prof. Gates and the elitists in the Harvard teaching community were, in the end, the biggest losers.

    August 4, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  9. Kamal

    The President was honest (not right or wrong, no one is anyway) in his assessment. He could have decided not to comment on the issue, like most President would do in public, then turn around to "act" on their own form of political ideologies. This President was bold enough, stated his opinion, and enabled a platform of open and sincere reconciliation for the parties involved. Give me a better president in the world that will match this honesty and open reconciliation spirit. President Obama is outstanding!

    August 4, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  10. WOmbat

    Obama replied honestly and on an emotional level on a subject that might have caused him personal pain in the past.
    It's hard not to respect someone for that more than, say, a calculated or politically motivated response.
    It speaks to Obama's character, honesty and relative political inexperience in being all things to all people.
    I hardly think he need "be haunted forever" by it.

    I suggest moving on, morans.

    Wombat T. Jones, off to the tub.

    August 4, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  11. carrie

    Yes he made an error in judgment! The word was not a good choice, he should maybe have used sensibly instead and it would have not sounded as bad as stupidly. But he made amends , and it was a teachable moment for Obama!

    August 4, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  12. George in Pa.

    Just showed his true colors.

    August 4, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  13. Emily

    Obama was absolutely CRACKED to comment on the situation at all and in doing so he acted INCREDIBLY stupidly.

    August 4, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  14. joel palmer

    No he didn't; this could not have come out better if it was scripted. All parties look honorable; no groveling; no bitterness.

    This is a great leap forward in handling the always touchy race issue in America.

    August 4, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  15. SeaWife

    I don't see it that way at all..."Anti-white sentiment."

    Clearly, President Obama was speaking from experience and from the heart.

    I am proud that he spoke up, and I supprt POTUS wholeheartedly.

    August 4, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  16. Mike

    It would have been much better had the president chosen his words more carefully. Maybe something like: "I don't know all of the facts, but what I have heard causes me some concern. I trust the Cambridge police to come to the right conclusion about what happened." That probably would have soothed the ruffled feathers on both sides of the situation.

    August 4, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  17. ImaLindatoo

    Of course Obama acted stupidly. And of those who polled they don't think so, they are being political and not honest.

    Obama intentionally wanted that question asked, at a Health Care Forum-of all places and time. Is he that stupid? Apparently. And proceded to give their stupid response. He thought his arrogance and intimadation would rally his base and that's why he did it. After all, the race card he's been playing since Jan 2008 has worked for him. He didn't realize it has been worn thin.

    My goodness, even if this was a case of racism, the guy didn't even have the facts and said so, but then disparaged Sgt Crowlely and the police department and accused them of wrong doing. And he's the president. I don't know how much more stupid, stupid can get than THAT.

    August 4, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  18. etl

    He was asked his opinion and he gave it. He said it would be biased. I think it was blown out of proportion on all sides. Enough is enough though. It should be put to rest and more substantial problems be the focus.

    August 4, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  19. Roger LaPierre

    The President had no right to get involved. He may have views but the office takes presidence.

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. Glennis

    In a word – yes.

    August 4, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. lefty loosy

    Give me a break , he said what was on his mind , if that was stupid so be it. He showed his lack of political experience and spoke his mind.
    Kind of refreshing in a sea of professional democrat and republican politicians who arent worth a crap.

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  22. Jack Flannigan

    President Obama spoke before he had the facts at hand. There appeared to be stupidity through out this entire incident, the prez only added to the sum. A little respect from the prof towards the officer and a little respect from the officer towards the prof would have negated any comments – much less the comment from the President.

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  23. Karl in Charleston,SC

    YES he did.

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  24. Gail

    Yes He acted with a knee jerk reaction. He should not have commented until he unstood the entire situation. Police officers are trained to react to non-compliance, they were only doing there job. The Prof. was provolking authority.

    August 4, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
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