Racial, Generational & Political Divisions Mark Americans' Attitudes on Ferguson

Americans divide evenly on last week's grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri - with vast racial, political and generational gaps defining public attitudes on the volatile issue.

Overall, 48 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve and 45 percent disapprove of the grand jury's decision not to bring criminal charges against police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown last August.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables here.

Underlying divisions are profound. Fifty-eight percent of whites approve of the grand jury action, compared with 9 percent of blacks and 32 percent of Hispanics, the nation's two main racial and ethnic minorities. Eighty-five percent of blacks and six in 10 Hispanics disapprove.

Indeed, 73 percent of blacks "strongly" disapprove of the decision not to charge Wilson, a remarkable level of strong sentiment on any issue. Forty-five percent of Hispanics also strongly disapprove - while among whites, 42 percent strongly approve of the grand jury's decision.

There's also an even split, 48-47 percent, on whether the federal government should bring civil rights charges against Wilson. In this case 85 percent of blacks say they'd approve, as do 67 percent of Hispanics - falling to 38 percent among whites.

This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, highlights the stark social divisions in opinions of the case, many of which mirror broader attitudes about the criminal justice system. Views divide sharply not only by race, but also by political party affiliation, ideology and age, among other factors.

Seventy-six percent of Republicans, for example, approve of the grand jury's decision, while half of political independents and just 27 percent of Democrats agree. Views on civil charges run just as sharply in the opposite direction: Nearly three-quarters of Democrats say they'd approve, dropping to fewer than half of independents and just 21 percent of Republicans.

There's a similar divide by ideology, with approval for the grand jury action ranging from 74 percent among strong conservatives to 47 percent of moderates and 29 percent of liberals. At the same time 62 percent of liberals say they'd approve of the federal government bringing civil rights charges; 51 percent of moderates agree, dropping to 29 percent of strong conservatives.

The generational differences are equally sharp, with 62 percent of seniors approving of the grand jury decision, compared with 30 percent of those under age 30. And while two-thirds of millennials approve of efforts to pursue a civil case, just a third of seniors agree.

Other gaps also appear, with support for the grand jury action and opposition to filing federal civil charges rising with income and higher among college graduates than non-graduates. Also, men are more likely than women to approve of the grand jury decision.

OFFICIAL RESPONSE - Majorities, meanwhile, look askance at the way local officials and Barack Obama alike have handled the situation. By 52-39 percent, the public disapproves of how the police and other local authorities in Ferguson have dealt with the protests there. Obama's handling of the situation gets an identical score.

Views on both these questions are marked by further (but less sharp) racial and political gaps. Disapproval of the local response is highest among blacks, Democrats and liberals. These same groups are disproportionately likely to approve of Obama's efforts, as are political moderates.

METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone Nov. 25-26 and 28-30, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,011 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y.

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