University Study Finds People’s Opinions Are Not Swayed by Police Racial Disparity Statistics

A new study by scholars at the University of Kansas and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, has found that people do not change their opinions of the police after being presented with statistics of racial disparities in police stops. The researchers conducted two experiments in which participants reviewed statistics that showed Black drivers were more likely to be pulled over for minor traffic violations than White drivers.

The researchers found that respondents typically demonstrated one of three beliefs after viewing the data; one group believed the results show who is committing the most crimes and holds a high level of trust in the police, the second group believed police are racially profiling Black drivers and exhibits a low level of police-trust, and the third group believed the data shows the strategic placement of police in Black neighborhoods and demonstrates a high level of trust in the police.

However, the majority of respondents did not change their minds regarding their trust in the police. The data simply reinforced the attitudes the survey participants possessed before viewing the statistics. The researchers suggest that other forms of presenting racial disparities in policing, such as personal narratives or YouTube videos of police actions, may be more successful at changing people’s opinions on racial disparities in law enforcement.

The full study, “Pulled-Over Rates, Causal Attributions, and Trust in Police,” was published in Political Research Quarterly. It may be accessed here.

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