Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Surge That Was Exaggerated


In its ongoing series on "George Floyd and America," The New York Times recently published "Support for Black Lives Matter Surged Last Year. Did It Last?"  The piece was written by Hakeem Jefferson, an "assistant professor political science at Stanford University," and by Jennifer Chudy. an "assistant professor of social sciences and political science at Wellesley College." (Political science is not a social science at Wellesley?)

Among their findings, based on data from Civiqs, was that support for Black Lives Matter:

a) surged within the USA following the killing of George Floyd, though most among Latinos, followed by "others," then "blacks," and least of all among whites (though still a substantial rise);

b) a year after the crime, has dropped slightly among blacks and considerably among the other three ethnic groups;

c) is lower now among whites (and Republicans) than it was prior to the killing on May 25, 2020.

Yes, that's right. Both whites and Republicans, whose numbers overlap, support Black Lives Matter much less than they did prior to 2020, and generally oppose it.

That's astounding, or at least it would be- were it to notice- in the mainstream media, most of which was giddy upon finding widespread support for Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd. A new era of respect for black Americans and, possibly, of contempt for local police forces was eagerly anticipated.

Survey results, as well as conclusions drawn from them, are always suspect. That's particularly the case here. Jefferson/Chudy analyze support for the upper-case Black Lives Matter, yet eight times refer to the movement. The survey itself exclusively utilized the upper-case

That's a critical distinction because messaging matters. In the video below, Charles Blow can be seen (at 2:38) asking 

There have been some politicians, including James Carville and even former president Barack Obama, who have suggested that the invocation of the phrase "defund the police" has been actually harmful to Democrats because it was harmful in the way people- the general public interpreted it. I assume tgat they mean in the way that white people interpreted it. Do you believe that has some impact on the way white people and Republicans supported or did not support Black Lives Matter?


 


Chudy was equivocal, odd because it is inarguable that GOP exploitation of the phrase "defund the police" has hurt Democrats, even though few Democratic politicians and/or officials have invoked the actual phrase, other than to warn against using it. Nonetheless, Republicans have been able to pin the phrase on Democrats. While murders have gone up in the USA, most crime- including serious crime- has not. Yet, the  mainstream media has dutifully propagated the notion that crime generally is rising, helping the GOP scare voters at a time when Democrats control the presidency, the House of Representatives, and (technically) the Senate 

Most jurisdictions have not made significant police reforms since Floyd's murder. However, the American people, stoked by a media which was cheered by the possibility of significant reform, likely believe otherwise. People hear that police have been demoralized since the Floyd protests, and seeds for a backlash are planted.

Moreover, messaging is not only important, but possible determinative. It was difficult to resist the slogan "black lives matter" because few people would deny that black lives matter. Many other people would refuse to admit to a pollster opposition to "black lives matter" (or Black Lives Matter). The person on the other end of the phone line rarely if ever sounds like the prototypical conservative- white; not young; not college-educated.  Giving the answer the pollster expects or would prefer is the path of least resistance.

It's a dirty little secret that neither academicians, journalists, nor pundits (certainly not politicians!) will admit: people lie. They lie to families, friends, co-workers, and especially strangers. Someone calling in June, 2020 to ask their opinion about a racial matter is a stranger. One year out, it's becoming ever clearer that America as a whole has not been as enamored of the movement as we were led to believe.



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