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. Dave

    He sat comfortably in a racist, anti-American church for 20 years and now everyone is shocked that he thinks American cops are just a bunch of hillbillies?

    August 4, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  2. Suzan

    Get over's over and done you are the ones keeping the fire under the pot........President did just fine by me.......

    August 4, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  3. chamblin

    No. He acted stupidly when he invited them to the White House for a beer instead of calling out the cop and calling on the police department to clean out its ranks of trash like Crowley.

    Crowley acted stupidly when he walked in a man's house, fully armed, and demanded ID and then proceeded to arrest a rightfully indignant man in his own home. He should have been shot. There was so much wrong with his procedure that I doubt he lacks the mental faculties to understand the gravity of his actions.

    Gates and Obama acted stupidly when he turned this from an issue of freedom into one of race. It was a golden opportunity to put police departments around the country on notice. On notice that they are there to serve the public. That any request for information should be challenged, and that they have no more rights than the citizens who gave them their badges. Instead, it's been twisted into a ridiculous race issue, because Gates wasn't infuriated as an American, he was infuriated as an African-American.

    The whole ordeal makes me sick.

    August 4, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  4. Chris

    It seems like everything this President does is put under a microscope by the media and White America. I swear is it so insulting and then you have the nerve to say racial prejudice or profiling don't exist!! PLEASE!!! Since President Obama has been elected everything he says or do is sliced and diced a thousand ways. I mean the man’s first 100 days were broken down in to academic grade!!! I don't recall any of the past President being subjected to such a trivial type evaluation. Oh and now we have to look at the man’s next 100 days!!
    But, let me talk about the GATES issue, and how we are really missing the point here, the man was in his house and once it was establish that he lived there and paid the note on that house, Crowley should have LEFT!!! Do you get that LEFT!!! Because at that point continued questions by him(Crowley) showed that he didn’t respect GATES(who is black) and therefore tempers are going to flare!!! So, for all the conservatives who are always speaking about a violation of Civil rights and Government infringing on their rights, WHERE ARE YOU NOW? Is it because this just is just a black man and you just don't give a care? -I'm so sure this will not get posted!!!

    August 4, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  5. Prosanto Mukerji, Ph.D.

    Prof. Gates had every right to be angry but cautious. However, Sgt Crawley crossed his boundary to arrest and charge an unarmed, and identifies man with respectable credentials. It was not only stupid but police arrogance. He was there to enforce the law and not over rule the law.

    August 4, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  6. Listen

    Yes, everyone get the facts. When it was stated that the professor identified himself he showed his SCHOOL ID that does NOT have his address on there! If I'm the officer responding to a break-in and he doesn't show me proof that he actually lives there, I take his butt down in the kitchen when he starts getting beligerent! Poll this!

    August 4, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  7. Chris from NY

    You guys will keep stoking the racial divide in this country to the country's peril. The media will not leave this case alone until the country gets into rioting. That's what stoking this story will lead to if the media doesn't back off this or treat is as it should-adiscussion about race and how the police should treat black people in this country.

    August 4, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  8. JR

    Fitz, below are Mass disorderly conduct laws:

    A "disorderly person" is defined as one who:

    * with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or
    * recklessly creates a risk thereof
    * engages in fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior, or
    * creates a hazard or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose.

    I think Gates qualified when he followed the cop OUTSIDE and continued his tirade.

    August 4, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. goodmangreen

    I think everyone involved, Gates, Crowley, Obama, and especially the media has acted stupidly.

    Was this event staged?

    August 4, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  10. MaryJo Bruce Surprise, Ariz

    Yes he acted stupid like he usually does in alot of things. He doesnt get the whole picuture. He should of stayed out of it and needs to stay in the whitehouse more. Do his job, not othere. NO TO HIS SOCIALIZED HEALTH CARE

    August 4, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  11. PS

    I believe when the journalist asked Obama what he thought of the arrest at his healthcare speech he should have replied he was there to talk about healthcare not other subjects. He just opened a can of worms at that point.

    August 4, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  12. Mary

    The harsh relationship between African Americans and the police is not new though many non African Americans may not be aware of the situation. It is clear to me that the police placed race into the equation as the caller herself has stated she did not specify an African American. I think the President was correct in stating it was a teachable moment. America really needs to take ownership of the way the establishment continues to treat non-white citizens in an unfair manner.

    August 4, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  13. WhoCares?

    Even as a huge Obama supporter – Yes..He did.

    He never should have rushed to judegment before knowing all the facts.

    Any human being that does that acts stupidily.

    But I think he handled it exceptionally after that.

    August 4, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  14. viola campbell

    If the professor hadnt gone off the deep end and talked to the officers rationaly, none of this would have happened. The police were not there about race........period............

    August 4, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  15. Ray

    Eh, well, I'm sure Obama wishes he hadn't said what he said. Not a big goof but a telling one.
    The Reporter should have never asked the question. The reporter acted STUPIDLY. End of story.

    August 4, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  16. lovable liberal

    I still find it incredible that so many people claim to believe it's perfectly acceptable for a policeman to arrest someone for mouthing off in his own home! I guess we're all criminals.

    August 4, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  17. tony

    the officers did act stupidly...u cant arrest a person in there own home when they didnt commit a crime & the person showed proof that he lived there....he didnt break any laws...thats why they dropped the charges

    August 4, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. Paul B.

    Yes, Barack Oabma should not have said anything about the matter whatsoever. There is not reason for him to say or do anything at all. Friendship aside, this issue is not one into which he needs or should be involved. End of discussion.

    August 4, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  19. minnie

    smart presidents do not stick their nose in somebody else's business. None of his concern. All he saw was color.

    August 4, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  20. Ruty

    I think Crowley acted stupedly. A lot of policemen get an attitude when they put on a uniform. I think Crowley just might be one of those.

    August 4, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  21. Nikita_19

    I believe the question is....Did Obama act stupidly in Gates arrest comments? and Did Obama's initial comments damage his political standing?

    Yes, he never should have commented on the subject, friend or no friend, it was in appropriate for him to do so, as the President of the United States.

    No, I would vote for him again I believe it was a lesson well learned.

    August 4, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  22. Nguyen

    He was trying to say what he wants to say, but I think he may forgot he is a President . That was not his job to made a comment like that at the time. To me he should support the enforcement to investigate the case. Respect others so they can respect you.

    August 4, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  23. yes!

    What he said that was stupid was his number 3 point – paraphrasing here – That the police have a history of racial profiling. This is a racist statement! Generalizing all police every where. I have my own prejudices against cops, but I wouldn't say them out loud if I were the President. Way to ignite more anger and hatred, President Obama!

    August 4, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  24. Fred the Moderate

    No President Obama didn't act stupidly. Gates was in his own kitchen and being told to prove he lived there which he did. The cop couldn't arrest him in his own kitchen so he asked him out to the front porch so he could say it was public nausance and charge him. I heard the police tape and the cop doesn't have a leg to stand on. President Obama use to be a Civil Rights Attorney and has seen this kind of thing time and again. The cop should have looked at Gates ID and said I'm sorry, we had a call and I needed to check it out and left.

    It is un-nevering to think the police can walk into your own home and arrest you for no cause. That's a police state and if you think that's good, there are still places on this earth that practice it. I suggest you go there.

    August 4, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  25. Steve

    I dare a cop to come to my house and tell me I'm a burglar they would probably have to arrest me as well. Mr. Gates did nothing wrong. He stood up for himself against a cop who, in fact, was violating his rights.

    August 4, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
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