Twenty Years Out, Racial Gap Narrows on Simpson Verdict

Twenty years after a criminal court jury acquitted O.J. Simpson of killing

— -- Twenty years after a criminal court jury acquitted O.J. Simpson of killing his ex-wife and her friend, the racial gap on the verdict has narrowed: Three-quarters of Americans, for the first time including a majority of blacks, think he probably is guilty.

The public by a broad 76-9 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll says Simpson probably or definitely was guilty of the killings, dividing essentially evenly between those options. After the jury’s verdict in 1995, it was 62-33 percent.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

A key difference is in the views of blacks. After Simpson’s acquittal on criminal charges, just 16 percent of blacks saw him as probably or definitely guilty, compared with 69 percent of whites. Today far more blacks – 57 percent – suspect Simpson’s guilt, as do 83 percent of whites.

The change has happened in stages. Views of Simpson as probably guilty increased after he was found liable in civil court in 1997 for the battery of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and wrongful death of her companion, Ronald Goldman. After that verdict, views of Simpson as likely guilty doubled among blacks, to 31 percent, as well as rising among whites.

Blacks’ suspicions about Simpson grew further, to 45 percent, in a Washington Post poll in September 2007, following his arrest on armed robbery and kidnapping charges in an unrelated case. Only now, though, does a majority of blacks see him as definitely or probably guilty in the murders of his ex-wife and Goldman.

Simpson, convicted of the 2007 crime, is serving a 9- to 33-year sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center near Reno, Nevada. The ABC News program 20/20 is presenting an hour-long special on the Simpson case, hosted by ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas, tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Even as the racial gap has narrowed, whites remain much more certain of Simpson’s guilt in the 1995 killings. This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that 44 percent of whites see him as definitely guilty, compared with 17 percent of blacks. Four in 10 blacks instead say he probably was guilty, and 19 percent have no opinion, up from 4 percent after the verdict in the sensational, nationally televised criminal trial.

It should be noted that seeing someone as “probably” guilty wouldn’t suffice in criminal court, where juries must find guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Civil verdicts have a lower standard, based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Suspicions of Simpson’s guilt peak at 80 percent or more among seniors, women, higher-income earners, whites and Republicans. Views that he’s definitely or probably not guilty crack the 20 percent mark only among blacks; it’s in the single- or low double-digits in most other groups.

<strong>Methodology<strong></strong></strong>

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Sept. 7-10, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points for all adults, including the design effect; it’s 4 points for whites and 10.5 points for blacks.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.