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THE TIMES POLL : Most in County Disagree With Simpson Verdicts

October 08, 1995|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Echoing the views of people nationwide, most Los Angeles County residents disagreed with the acquittal of O.J. Simpson and only a quarter of those questioned in a new Los Angeles Times Poll believe he was innocent in the slayings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Even with the not guilty verdicts, public sympathy for Simpson has ebbed significantly, indicating how difficult it will be for the Hall of Famer to regain the popular persona he enjoyed before June, 1994.

While 43% were sympathetic toward Simpson last September, only 34% described themselves that way now. The level of sympathy fell among blacks, whites and Latinos, although Simpson did remain a sympathetic figure to most blacks.

The telephone poll, which was conducted last Tuesday through Thursday, illustrated the deep racial divide on the Simpson matter, a stark disagreement in which blacks and whites are frequently polarized and Latinos reside generally in the middle.

Whites defended the prosecutors and blamed the mostly minority jury for the biased verdicts; blacks support the Simpson defense team and defended the jurors. Blacks were more than four times more likely than whites to think Simpson was not guilty. Almost half of whites describe themselves as "angry" at the verdicts, a position held by only 4% of blacks. The poll underscores that, whatever people thought during the trial, the verdict has divided them cleanly.

"More than details about the case, race seems to be driving opinions," said Times Poll Director John Brennan.

Interestingly, however, there is relative unanimity when it comes to former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman, whose widely publicized utterings of racial epithets and boasts of beating minority suspects cast a pall over the trial.

Major groups measured in the poll--whites, blacks and Latinos; men and women; city residents and suburban dwellers--believed strongly that Fuhrman should be brought up on charges stemming from his comments.

Support for that move ranged from 69% among whites to 83% among Latinos. Among blacks, 82% felt Fuhrman should be charged. Even in the generally more conservative suburbs, 71% felt that Fuhrman should pay for his comments.

In a related question, respondents cited as the turning point in the trial the release of tapes of Fuhrman's racist comments. Twenty-four percent said that, compared with 15% who cited the prosecution's backfiring attempt to make O.J. Simpson put on the bloody gloves found at the crime scene and behind his home.

All groups also agreed that Simpson's wealth was more important to the outcome of his trial than was his race. Among all respondents, 34% cited wealth as the most important factor and 27% cited race.

The poll questioned 760 county residents. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is four points in either direction.

According to the poll, local views about the Simpson case were almost identical to those held by people nationwide.

A national Times Poll conducted on the day of the verdict found that 50% disagreed with it and 41% thought it was correct. Among county residents, 51% disagreed and 41% agreed. In both polls, the strongly anti-Simpson views of whites greatly influenced the overall numbers.

Countywide, 65% of whites disagreed with the not guilty verdict, including 51% who said they disagreed strongly. Only 28% agreed with the jurors. Among blacks, however, 77% agreed with the verdict, including 68% who agreed strongly, and only 12% disagreed. The Latino community was far more split, with 50% agreeing and 43% disagreeing. A little more than a third of Latinos either disagreed strongly or agreed strongly.

The split was apparent as well when respondents were asked if they thought Simpson was guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or had not committed the crimes. Nearly two-thirds--65%--of whites believed him guilty and only 13% said he was not guilty. In contrast, only 11% of blacks felt he was guilty and 61% said he was not guilty. Among Latinos, 41% said he was guilty and 31% disagreed.

Taking into account those groups and others which are too small to measure independently--such as Asians--fully half of the county thought he was guilty of either first- or second-degree murder, or both, and 25% said he was not guilty.

As in the national poll, there was more ambivalence about Simpson's innocence than about the verdict. While 41% thought he should have been acquitted, only 25% thought he was not guilty. Put another way, the poll found that only 61% of those who agreed with the acquittal verdicts were also certain that Simpson was not guilty.

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