Poll shows NC voters believe courts are politicized

North Carolinians believe that wealthy individuals and white people receive better treatment by the state courts than do black residents, Hispanics, low-income defendants or those without a lawyer, according to a recent Elon University Poll surveying registered voters about their political opinions and views of the state court system.

“The public in North Carolina have high levels of confidence in the local police force and generally believe most people receive fair outcomes in our court system,” said Kenneth Fernandez, an assistant professor at Elon and director of the poll.

“However, when asked specifically about how blacks, Hispanics, non-English speaking and low-income people are treated, most respondents acknowledge these groups frequently receive worse treatment by the courts.”

The poll included questions suggested by the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, an independent commission convened earlier this year by Chief Justice Mark Martin of the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

More than 80 percent said they were at least somewhat confident in their local police or sheriff’s offices, though that number dropped when minority voters responded.

And nearly 66 percent said they were at least somewhat confident in the state court system.

But more than 75 percent of those surveyed believe the state courts are influenced by politics, and almost as many believe that judges’ decision are affected by the fact that they must seek election.

“These results may reflect the fact that North Carolina had the nation’s second-highest level of campaign spending in judicial elections in 2014,” said Jason Husser, an Elon assistant professor and assistant director of the poll. “Our state trails only Michigan in how much money all candidates spent in seeking seats on the bench.”

Elon’s live callers surveyed 1,234 residents between Oct. 29 and Nov. 2, 2015. The survey had a margin of error of 2.79 percentage points for a sample of North Carolinians weighted by age, gender, race and phone use.

See the full report of the poll here.

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