Poll highlights divide between GOP, black voters on police issues

Poll highlights divide between GOP, black voters on police issues

Baltimore voters and statewide voters are divided on a variety of issues related to the unrest that followed Freddie Gray's death from injuries sustained in police custody in April.

But there's an even deeper divide between two demographic groups: Maryland's Republican and African-American voters, a poll for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore shows.

About 85 percent of Maryland Republican voters say they sympathized more with the police during the unrest that followed Gray's death, while just 3 percent of Republicans sympathized with the protesters. That result was flipped for Maryland's black voters, who favored the protesters 53 percent of the time compared to 18 percent for police.

Republican voters were most likely to be critical of how State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has handled the case, with just 11 percent approving and 69 percent disapproving. Again, black voters see the situation much differently, with 69 percent backing Mosby, a Democrat, and just 17 percent disapproving.

Republicans also were the demographic group most distrustful that the officers can get a fair trial in Baltimore. About 50 percent of Republicans polled said they do not believe the trials will produce a fair outcome, compared with 25 percent of African-Americans.

Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police transport van after being arrested April 12, according to the state medical examiner. His death sparked protests across the city and rioting broke out on the day of his funeral.

In June, leaders of Maryland's Republican Party came to Baltimore to try to make inroads among voters here, saying they offered an alternative in a city plagued for years by poverty and high crime under decades of Democratic leadership. But the poll shows a deep ideological difference between Republicans and black voters on police issues and the cause of Baltimore's problems.

Forty-one percent of black voters say the underlying cause of Baltimore's problems is a lack of jobs, followed by racism. But 52 percent of Republicans say the city's problems are caused by a "lack of responsibility among residents," followed by a lack of civic leadership.

"The experience of white people, and particularly white Republicans, is so different from the African-American experience in terms of policing that it's difficult to even start a conversation," said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis-based firm that conducted the poll. "There's a big chasm. That's become vividly clear. It's very hard to start a conversation about these issues unless one can understand the other's point of view."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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