Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Self-Inflicted Wound (Polling on Zimmerman and the President)?

The news that Obama's approval rating has dropped sharply since around May is not news:
It's Around Where Bush's Was
And the news that the Zimmerman verdict had a very, very different reception between whites and blacks is also not news:
56pt Gap Between White / Black Dissatisfaction
Indeed, Nate Cohn looks at the Pew numbers and concludes that Obama is losing working class whites:
Mostly In the South ...
What if these trends are related?

A Divisive Race Issue?
The decline in general presidential approval since May is fairly sharp and, if the numbers are right, seems to be localized on whites without college outside the Northeast. Where was the Zimmerman Verdict splits sharpest? Let's look here under the hood:
From the Pew Poll On The Zimmerman Verdict
What Do We See?
When I look at the detailed tables for Zimmerman and Presidential Approval by region, it's clear that the areas of strongest variance on the verdict (Midwest and South) match the areas of strongest disapproval (also the Midwest and the South). I am (somewhat) comparing apples to oranges (the samples for each poll are not the same)--but it looks like this:

This is a bit confusing: I have reversed the Satisfied and Dis-Satisfied columns between Zimmerman and Approval and taken the absolute difference because in all the categories white males in general disapproved of the president and approved of the Zimmerman trial.

So okay? Here is what I take away from this:
  1. The South and Midwest are clearly where white men more strongly approved of the Zimmerman decision and disapproved of the president. That goes together.
  2. While we don't have trend-lines for the Zimmerman Verdict (that is: there is no history to track) it seems to me that Males with no or 'some' college tracks: that is, the magnitude in each case is less than the highest differential but generally high for the category.
  3. It doesn't all track: the white-working-class (<$30,000) category is actually reversed: while they strongly disapprove of the president (-30 points) they also disapproved of the Zimmerman verdict by -3pts! 
A Self Inflicted Wound?
My hypothetical narrative that a highly racially divisive national-profile case (the Zimmerman trial) is driving a visible wedge between the white working class and America's first black president is a tasty one--but I'm not sure it's backed up by the evidence I have (I think the above data is, at best, suggestive--and there is zero evidence as to causation). On the other hand, we've seen constructed narratives come into play "nearby" with powerful results.

I'm speaking, of course, the way that the information around Zimmerman's racial motivations was presented early on. From his alleged use of a racial slur on the 911 call to the bogusly edited NBC tape which made it sound like he was chasing down Martin solely because he was black, there has been a great deal of early material put out that, in the end, didn't turn out to be true.

Here's a CNN clip that says the voice-analysis of the 911 call has Zimmerman saying "punks" instead of using a racial slur--something that a lot of people still believe he did (and who knows, I'm not a voice analyst--but I'm going to take CNN's expert's word for it as the audio was unintelligible to me).

What role you think race played in the events of that night is, of course, up to each of us to decide: Here the LawyersGunsAndMoney blog makes the case that you can see racism--or at the very least--confirmation bias against black males in Zimmerman's 911 history:
[On] 26 February 2012 he calls about Trayvon Martin. There’s a pattern here obvious to anyone without an investment in not seeing it. What began as annoying 911 operators with pointless complaints escalated to notifying the authorities any time he saw a black male he didn’t know. The argument that he’s not racist and wasn’t profiling is based on the fact that he “mentored black children” and “had black friends” and is entirely beside the point, because it presumes that he’s an overt and deliberate racist. Those who make it claim victory when they demonstrate that he never wore a white hood or bedecked his body in Nazi ink.
On the other hand, consider that a number of actual break-ins in the neighborhood where the suspects were identified as young black men:
By the summer of 2011, Twin Lakes was experiencing a rash of burglaries and break-ins. Previously a family-friendly, first-time homeowner community, it was devastated by the recession that hit the Florida housing market, and transient renters began to occupy some of the 263 town houses in the complex. Vandalism and occasional drug activity were reported, and home values plunged. One resident who bought his home in 2006 for $250,000 said it was worth $80,000 today.
At least eight burglaries were reported within Twin Lakes in the 14 months prior to the Trayvon Martin shooting, according to the Sanford Police Department. Yet in a series of interviews, Twin Lakes residents said dozens of reports of attempted break-ins and would-be burglars casing homes had created an atmosphere of growing fear in the neighborhood.

In several of the incidents, witnesses identified the suspects to police as young black men. Twin Lakes is about 50 percent white, with an African-American and Hispanic population of about 20 percent each, roughly similar to the surrounding city of Sanford, according to U.S. Census data.
To take Zimmerman to task for being suspicious of people in the neighborhood he didn't know--black or not--seems to be a bit biased itself. Again, we don't know if he would have reported a single white guy in a hoodie doing the same thing--but at this time we simply don't have the facts to definitively say otherwise.

If, indeed, if you believe the media is left-leaning* and either intentionally or naively the divisive racial narrative** for the Zimmerman case, this would  as self-inflicted wound. I'm seriously dubious that any given segment of the population is particularly well informed about the case (and, while I count myself as reasonably well informed, I am no expert) but I think the blizzard of conflicting material--all stated with the utmost conviction--has done plenty to drive a wedge between anyone caught on either side of the divide.

It isn't the media's job to make up our minds for us--but playing maliciously edited tapes and otherwise jumping to conclusions (about, for example, whether Zimmerman was injured)--is a disservice that to the public at large that can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects.

* Not a stretch.
** I think race plays a part whether or not Zimmerman racially profiled the case. The raw numbers for homicide conviction are starkly distinct by race, for example. How the entire system works--and how much of an outlier Zimmerman is--or to what degree he can be called a racist given the totality of the situation is a more nuanced discussion than, I think, a lot of people are having.

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