Simpson polls tell us what we already know

July 13, 1994|By MIKE ROKYO

We're now getting all sorts of polling results on the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson and whether he can get a fair trial.

Many of these polls are broken down by race and age groups, to show us that blacks and young people are more sympathetic to Simpson than are whites and older people.

But what is the significance of these polls? What do they tell us about ourselves, society in general and the deep meaning of it all?

There is no significance or meaning. At least none that we don't already know. Their only purpose is to permit TV news shows and some newspapers to cause their viewers and readers to say, "Wow" when there is really nothing to wow about.

Of course, blacks think more kindly of Simpson. They would be more sympathetic to any black accused of a crime. To this day, many still believe the incredibly phony rape story of New York's Tawana Brawley and will always believe it.

But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Americans -- black, white or otherwise -- don't understand the criminal-justice system; can't spell forensic, much less explain it; get their news dTC in broadcast snippets and bites or talk-show babble; and base their opinions on emotion or prejudice.

If pollsters wanted to, they could focus on all sorts of specific groups and get amazingly different results on Simpson's guilt or innocence, potential for a fair trial, etc.

For example, what would a poll of cops throughout the country show? I'll tell you the results of my own mini-poll of Chicago police who are friends and sources: Every one of them thinks Simpson is guilty.

But then, cops tend to have more suspicious natures than most of us. As one old-timer once put it: "If you didn't do anything wrong, how come I'm asking you questions?"

At the same time, a poll could be limited to young black men who have been arrested at least once and believe they were mistreated by white cops. They'd probably be unanimous in their belief in Simpson's innocence.

On the other hand, a poll of whites who have been victims of black criminals would likely show just the opposite.

If you polled lawyers, the results would depend on the kind of law they practice. Defense lawyers don't think anyone is guilty. Most of them would probably tell you that Jeffrey Dahmer merely had an eating disorder.

But professional prosecutors would show as much compassion for Simpson as a pit bull does to a hunk of steak.

Or there could be a poll of blond white women who have been abused by their husbands. They might be inclined to identify with the late Nicole Simpson. Or Jewish bodybuilders, who might feel a kinship to the almost-ignored Ronald Goldman.

You could probably poll football fans in Buffalo, where Simpson had his greatest days, and get more favorable results than from the football fans in Chicago or Green Bay.

For that matter, a poll of avid male football fans might have entirely different answers than a poll of football-hating females.

And if you polled former running backs and former defensive tackles, they might have opposite opinions.

We might poll people with IQ's of 80 and those with 150 to see how they feel. Or those who read the National Enquirer regularly and those who read the Christian Science Monitor or the New York Times. The MTV audience and the C-SPAN viewers. University presidents and high school dropouts, convicts and prison guards.

The people who stand outside the courtroom with signs that say, "Guilty or Innocent, OJ We Love You," are expressing public opinion. Are they to be taken seriously?

Put it all together and what would you have? Public opinion? If so, which public? We have all kinds of opinions in this country, from the ignorant to the well-informed, from the wacky to the thoughtful, from the bigoted to the open-minded. You could take a poll on the question of whether the Earth is round or flat and round wouldn't be unanimous.

Put it all together or take it separately and what do you have? Nothing, because this case isn't about public opinion. It is about evidence, both physical and circumstantial.

When it finally ends, the only opinions that matter will be those of the members of a jury and a judge.

And if and when that happens, there will be another meaningless poll on whether the public thinks the judge and jury were right.

What we really need is a poll on whether there should be polls. Or maybe we need a poll on whether such a poll is needed.

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