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. nk

    Its incidents like this that make people not want to get involved. Next time someone is seen breaking into Gates' house, it is unlikely that anyone will report it. Next time, it may be a real burgler.

    Gates shouldn't have blown his top. The cop shouldn't have arrested him. Obama should have kept his mouth shut. All three contributed to this mess.

    August 4, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  2. Sam I Am

    As Obama himself said, he goofed. He's human. Let's try to get past it. A lot of us jumped to conclusion before the facts were out.

    We probably never know what caused the arrest specifically, but neither the cop or the professor where having one of their best days that day.

    Rather than yelling at the cop and making all kinds of accusations, if professor Gates had asked for a supervisor to show up in a cool, calm, and collected manner, the outcome probably would have been entirely different. Had the cop not been so brittle about the situation himself, Gates probably wouldn't have lost his temper. Neither man was in his groove that day.

    August 4, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  3. TL

    You come home after a long vacation and for whatever reason, trouble with the door or just travel frustration, you make noise that is reported as a possible break in. Police show up. Once the officer see's an ID (I think only one, but certainly after two) he/she should recognize the situation for what it is and try to make themselves helpful if not leaving altogether. I don't mean that to be disrespectful to our law officers but I think this officer was on a power trip that could have been motivated by a number of things, certainly race. An incident like this requires two stubborn people with bad-attitudes, not just Dr. Gates.

    What happens if you call in a suspected break-in to any random house. The officer that shows up is going to find a confused homeowner. The officer should not end up arresting the homeowner for disorderly conduct.

    For the record, I'm white.

    August 4, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  4. Desere

    I believe the true feelings came out ....About how the President and Federal Government really feels and cares about the Police Force....The main "Comment" That the police officer was "stupid" was a "blow" to ALL American Police Forces....Call one, you might as well call them all that....

    August 4, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  5. Kel

    To go to the house and question him was right. To arrest him after you've found out he lives there is stupid.

    August 4, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  6. gt

    stupid is as stupid does,,,, heck yes it was stupid !.. obama to say a stupid statement...he deserve to be called stupid,,,

    August 4, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  7. Johnny DC

    Wait, Obama rushed in to make an ill-informed, bad decision that affected millions, wasted tax-payer money and time, and set a bad example?

    This is new? What's new about this?

    Get used to it, America.

    August 4, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. Carlton

    There always have been and always will be a racial divide in America!!! For "those" white people who are racist and want to continue to act like there is no problem, because all white people are not racist, I recommend that they take the black test, change your skin color for 1 year and continue to live the same lifestyles in the their locations and then come back after that year and tell me how things really went!!! It's always easy to look from the outside-in!!!

    August 4, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  9. Margaret

    Yes he acted stupidly. He jumped without the facts and made an ass of himself.

    His remark certainly did nothing to help the situation.

    August 4, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  10. David

    I don't think that Obama can be all things to all people at once. He should have reserved his opinion on this matter as president.

    I'm not saying that he can't have comments on situations that arise, but I think that at the moment he's spread too thin to be acting as an African American movement leader AND the president of all people in the country.

    He should have known that this would cause a frenzy that would distract from matters at hand. Also, I think it's hard for anyone to judge this scenario without having been in either man's shoes. I've dealt with overzealous cops and I've also dealt with paranoid, arrogant and defensive people.

    There is more to this story than any of us may know I'm sure. It's hard to judge.

    August 4, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  11. One and done

    I don't think Obama acted stupidly, I think he acted and stated his true beliefs after sitting in a church for twenty years of a white hating race baiter and also remember his coming out party politically was at an anti-police terrorist William Ayers.

    He DID call his Grandmother a "typical white person", his wife did say that "this is a downright mean Country" and "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my Country".

    His first SCOTUS DID state on MANY occasions that she as "a wise Latina women would more often than not make a beter judgement than a white male".

    His own AG DID say that we are a nation of cowards in regards to race, but then turns around and dismisses charges against three Black Panthers who brandished weapons, yelled racist remarks at white voters and it IS ON FILM.

    You can not be happy at what I post here, but they are all actual statements of fact and sorry if the truth hurts.

    He indeed showed his true colors and add that in to his beliefs and ideas, he will be one and done IF he makes it to 2102 without being impeached.

    Have a nice day sheep.

    August 4, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  12. BigDogg

    YES...Obama opened his mouth and made a judgement BEFORE having all the facts!

    August 4, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  13. Proud Member..Party of No

    Of course Obama acted stupidly but, then again, he has acted stupidly on everything he has done since he was elected.

    August 4, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  14. Dan

    This President acted stupidly....should have never put down law enforcement. He can't afford this kind of mistake at his level. I frankly expected more from a President than this. I believe Him to be a cause of this so called racial unrest over the issue. And the professor, isn't this racial pimping? I mean enough's enough.Might get a book deal? And the folks that made the call don't know who the owner of the next house is or how lives there?? The whole things stinks. And that Obama would not appolgize for his comments shows an even greater problem.

    August 4, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  15. Cindy

    Stupidly or not, was it really necessary for the President of the United States to become involved in this dispute? Does he not have other pressing matters on his agenda which require his attention?? I think the "beer summit" was ludicrous and it did nothing more than diminish the office of the President. Other countries must be looking upon this meeting as an absolute mockery of the man who holds the highest position in this great country of ours. I for one, was embarrassed by it!

    August 4, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  16. Leon

    Politically incorrect, yes. Premature, probably. Stupidly, no. The fact that the incident boiled down to a referendum on race is unfortunate. While race undoubtedly played a role, the major issue was a power struggle. And a badge held more power. While Gates response was unwise, it was understandable. But where is the statute that says it is a crime to mouth off at the police? No one talked about that. Crowley arrested him to put Gates in his place. He could have just as easily defused the situation when he established it was Gates residence–since defusing is what they are also trained to do.

    August 4, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  17. Steve, Columbia SC

    Your headline is whether our president acted spoke stupidly. So let's focus on that, not whether the police officer or professor acted stupidly.

    Our president spoke and acted very foolishly on three counts. First, he admitted he didn't have all the facts, yet he still spoke against the police officer.

    Secondly he spoke in support for his friend. Not very unbiased to say the least not having all the facts.

    Finally, the president shouldn't be wading into very very local matters.

    Yet, our "change" president hasn't apologized for anything he said. He thinks he should have "calibrated" his comments differently. Calibrating is something I do with my digital multimeter.................not my mouth.

    August 4, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  18. Il Voter

    Yes Obama did act stupidly in this commment but then later he called both officer and professor to WH for beer diplomacy. So he corrected his misstep.

    August 4, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  19. Linda M

    I support President Obama, however, without knowing the facts of the case prior to saying the officer acted stupidly, make his actions stupid. The police officer responded to a call and did his job. Was the black president calling the white officer stupid because the suspect was black? What does that say about racial profiling? How about if President Obama deals with the real issues. I think the beer summit was stupid.

    August 4, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. Allelujah

    No, President Obama was absolutely right. There was no need to arrest and shackle Prof. Gates in his own home one it was clear that he was the owner. Racial profiling in this country is a very troubling issue which should concern all of us.

    August 4, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  21. Jeff

    Yes of course- why even ask the question? The fact is he got on his soapbox before he had many facts. You don't do that when you're in that office.

    August 4, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  22. Kate

    Yes, Obama acted stupidly and yes, it's going to cost him.

    August 4, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  23. Rick

    When a cop asks you for ID, your give it to him. End of discussion.
    You don't argue with him about it. Arguing usually means you did or are doing something wrong.

    Had Gates simply handed over his ID and explained the situation, the matter would have been closed right then and there.

    The Pres. should have kept his mouth shut on matters to which he had no specific knowledge of.

    August 4, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  24. John

    Once the officer found out that it was his house the case was over! Yelling at a officer is not a crime. Yes he (Crowley) acted stupidly. PEROID!

    August 4, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  25. PC From SC

    Crowley acted stupidly for FALSIFYING a Police Report!

    August 4, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
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