Gallup Poll on hate crimes measures feelings versus facts

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
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Posted: May 28, 2007 12:00 AM
Gallup Poll on hate crimes measures feelings versus facts

An article released by the Gallup News Service on May 17, 2007 ran the following headline: “Public Favors Expansion of Hate Crime Law to Include Sexual Orientation.” The author of the article, Frank Newport, asserted that a substantial majority of Americans are in favor of adding sexual orientation as a protected class of people under new the hate crimes legislation.

As most of my readers are aware, the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed HR 1592 --- the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 --- in early May. The bill was whisked through Congress in less than one month ---this is record timing. The Senate version of the bill is called the “Matthew Shepard Act”, named after the Wyoming college student who was murdered in 1998.

The average person does not know the details of the bills. Instead of using the powerful polling tool to tease out heartfelt thoughts about the legislation, Mr. Newport says, “Although many Americans may be unfamiliar with the pending new law, there appears to be little hesitation to offer an opinion. Only 5% of Americans say they don't have an opinion about the expansion of the law.”

Once again, misinformation leads to poor uninformed opinions. Uninformed opinions inspire poor decisions, and poor decisions perpetuate mediocrity in our nation.

Although I was incensed by the bias this so-called “objective tool” will introduce into the public dialogue and the body politic, I decided to look closer at the questions. Not surprisingly, there were two glaring mistakes in the poll’s construction. First of all, the misguided pollster failed to address the freedom of speech and/or religious liberties issues about which opponents of the legislation are concerned. Second, the two simple questions used in the poll did not address any specifics of the legislation.

The questions were:

1. Now, thinking about what have been called "hate crimes" -- those crimes committed because the criminal hates the group of people to which the victim belongs. As you may know, federal law currently allows prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin. Do you favor or oppose these laws?

2. There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?

If I wanted an editorial based upon personal opinions, I would go to the editorial pages of the paper. When I am in need of hard data, I want to go to Gallup and other services to obtain facts --- not warmed over personal feelings dressed up as statistical analysis. Both journalism and polling have dipped into a biased “yellow paper” approach to the news. If you want a conservative slant on the news, everyone knows which news programs to tune into and which to avoid. Liberals are just as guilty of having their favorite news sources or media watering holes. Fortunately for our country, things are going to change.

Most objective polls say that Americans are tired of the current polarization of politics and media in the public forum. In fact, a recent Zogby poll says that most Americans want our next president to be a strong manager that brings people together. The public’s desire for objectivity may also force the media back into reporting on the news instead of creating the news.

Polling techniques aside, let’s return to the legislation in question. As an African American who has fought discrimination all my life, I understand that racially motivated violence can be a form of internal terrorism. No one wants to allow women or gays to experience the trauma of such crimes. Singling out one group of Americans to persecute is morally wrong and should not be condoned. Most Americans agree on this point. The point of debate lies in the arena of implementation. The true question is how to make America safe for everyone. How do we ensure that Lady Justice is working for every person, equally. The unintended side affects of the wrong kind of legislation may be more damaging than the problem the legislation is attempting to solve.

Opponents to the proposed hate crimes legislation want to slow down the approval of new laws until all the bugs are removed from their language and content. We want avoid the legal version of what has just happened in the medical field with the drug Avandia. Avandia (a diabetic medicine) solves blood sugar problems in a very effective way, but may adversely affect the heart function of some patients. Similarly, the laws in their present form will eventually muzzle the mouth of the Church and create a chilling affect upon kind-hearted teachers of biblical truth. These side effects are dangerous to our society.

In addition, these bills may be used as a “feel good elixir” by political hucksters, while not addressing the real needs of our society. True justice has often been compromised by the impatience of rich political lobbies and the backroom influence of powerful, special interest groups.

Let’s vie for justice!