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 Jacobson - Houston, TX


    Gates is who created the problem by being obnoxious to a cop trying to do his job Then the president acted even more stupidly by passing judgment because he believed his friend's version of the story.

    August 4, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  2. TONY

    The President of the United States has no business getting involved in a local police dispute even if it is his friend. He has enough on his plate and it's just not his place to do so. I think The President acted stupidly for putting his two cents worth in.

    August 4, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  3. Lynne

    Can we please let this go already? I am tired of overblown news bites and incessant polls that in the grand scheme of things are only creating MORE angst! ENOUGH!!!!!

    August 4, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  4. George

    In order of stupidness:

    Obama (I thought he was supposed to be smart)
    Gates (I wonder if he has played the race card in the past. He came from a long trip and was tired and frustrated, I'd give him some slack)
    Crowley (an officer doing his job and probably personally insulted by Gates yapping about his mother. I would have likely done the same thing).

    The only person who this is a teachable moment to is Obama. He lacks common sense.

    August 4, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  5. HSNP


    August 4, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  6. Nafiz

    I think Obama overreacted in this matter . If anybody yell at the police officer without any reason then he/she should get arrested. Sometimes police can be rude but Crowley was just doing his job. And i think this type of issue should not be in the media since we are dealing with major crisis !!

    August 4, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  7. Boston Irish

    Yes he did. If Gates hadn't been a friend of his, he would have thought about it before calling anyone's action stupid. Apparently, if you are a friend of Obama, you do not act stupid. Only others do.

    August 4, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  8. feel the heat

    Obama had a Rev. Wright moment. Don't get me wrong I voted for Obama. and will again,

    August 4, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  9. Jim

    The President didn't have all the facts. He picked the wrong case to showcase "racial profiling". Once he found out he was wrong he should have apologized. By making the statement he could have calibrated his words more carefully tells me he wasn't sorry. In that fact he acted "stupidly".

    August 4, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  10. Jackson

    I think he might have but he admitted he was wrong and remedied the situation. Ask Bush how many mistakes he made and he will not know what he did wrong.

    August 4, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  11. New Age Democrat

    Did Obama act stupidly? Absolutely. There can be no question that Obama made statements where he knowingly was not aware of any facts. To blast the police in this particular instance was disgraceful.

    As further facts were made public, which is quite obvious that many of the posters here are ignorant of; it's even more apparent that Gates was the problem in this case. He's an embarrassment to the community and to the university. He should publicly apologize to the police department.

    August 4, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  12. Kathie Arbogast

    He may not have acted stupidly but had no business getting involved at all.

    The president has better and more important things to do than to defend a friend on what may or may not have been a racial thing. It appeared that if the had just handed over proof the whole thing would have been over. Instead he had a chip on his shoulder and things escalated unnecessarily.

    August 4, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  13. jumpugly

    Stupid? Maybe, but at least he manned-up and apologized that he spoke too soon. A little act of contrition goes a long way; an idea lost on the Neocons.

    August 4, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  14. Save America

    He always acts AND looks stupidly.

    August 4, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  15. SkiDoc

    When President Teleprompter speaks "off the cuff" he is invariably acting stupidly. This dude makes Bush look eloquent.

    August 4, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  16. Jaimon

    Yeah. The average guy can certainly empathize with jumping up in defense of a friend, but Obama was speaking at an official white house media event as President of the United States.
    Emotional conclusions without the facts has no place there.

    August 4, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  17. M Rahenkamp

    First, Obama said before the comment that he didn't know all the facts. Second, what he said was that he thought the police acted stupidly WHEN the police arrested a man in his own home after he was identified as being in his own home. Arresting someone in their own home for disorderly conduct does seem stupid to me.

    August 4, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  18. Kate in SW Fla

    I also think that people who are so hateful now, towards a rather minor incident, are the ones who are REALLY stupid. Many people speak out of turn, it is how you act afterwards, when passions die down, whether you continue to be hateful and refuse any overtures of reconciliation, that defines you as a person. I believe that all 3 of these folks are persons of tremendous character.

    August 4, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  19. Steve, NY

    Without a teleprompter, Obama cannot speak without putting a foot in his mouth. Its plainly clear that without the facts, Obama should have kept his mouth shout. But our dear President is not the 'One' like many believe, but only a mere mortal doomed to mistakes. Only his mistakes can have grave consequences for our country.

    August 4, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  20. Pat in IL

    I'm a huge fan of Obama, but in this case he spoke too quickly. before knowing the particulars of the case. I believe he knows this now......we all "live and learn".

    August 4, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. Lee

    It was a surprise to hear the word from the President and no one can express their disgust with the police anyway. Gates showed his ID and police verified it is his home and end of the story. I think Crowley has an ego.

    August 4, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  22. SpeedRacer

    Regardless of the white or black split on the matter, Obama should not have commented on such a local matter. It was due to the idiot reporter who, during the press conference regarding Healthcare, asked about the issue in Cambridge.

    They should have stayed on topic. Obama got sucked in and made a big mistake. It put egg on his face.

    August 4, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. Bev

    The President was the one that acted STUPIDLY in this case. It was none of the President's business about the case. Does he need to go around and stick his nose into every arrest? I don't think so! That's not his job! He needs to worry about the U.S. citizens like he does his friends and then maybe our country would be in better shape!

    August 4, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  24. Jim

    The point isn't whether anyone acted stupidly. The last time I checked, everyone acts stupidly from time to time. The point is whether they were able to get past that and resolve their differences. Thanks to President Obama, they did. That should be the end of the controversy, as well as an example of how we all can handle our differences.

    August 4, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  25. Penny

    He's acted STUPIDLY since the day he was elected, and still does...!

    August 4, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13