Doing Justice

GenEd 0853


Computer Exercise with Written Assignment Follow-Up:

Race and Views About Criminal Justice in U.S. Opinion Polls

This exercise requires that each individual student have access to a computer. You could get the entire class time in a lab somewhere, like Anderson. Or you could schedule times when you or the TA are available at drop-in labs. It is probably best to have the students at the computer at times when you or the TA are there as well.

The exercise fits in the course segment on law and order. It also could be integrated with the discussion of the race (marginality) dimension in the Black tool box if you introduce, in class, that differential treatment by justice agencies will result in different views toward those agencies.

The exercise addresses both information literacy, quantitative literacy, and critical thinking. Students learn how to find, look at, and explore, a major public opinion poll (information literacy). They also get practice decoding two-way tables of crosstabulations (quantitative literacy) and thinking about what these patterns mean.

It is probably a good idea to run through the steps before assigning, since the "front end" of the Roper poll database may have changed.



One of the themes we have been developing in this segment on the rise of law and order, starting with the Andrulis et al. reading on responses to Attica, is how people positioned differently in society have different views on what justice agencies do. Black would suggest to us that these differences may arise in part from the differential treatment of different persons in society by agencies of justice. Of course, there are alternative explanations as well.

This exercise has three purposes.

(1) The first is simply  is  information literacy. How do you go about finding some information about a particular topic, here, public attitudes in the U.S.?

(2) Once you have that information how do you decode what you have? This is quantitative literacy. You are going to be decoding basic crosstabulations and column percentages. In this set up the predictor is the column variable and the categories of the outcome are the rows. You want to see how the percentage of a group picking a certain response varies depending on the group (here race) in question.

(3) Once you have that information in front of you and decoded, you want to think critically about it. Not surprisingly, this goal is improving critical thinking. In this case you will be asked to answer the questions that appear below, place your answers in a thoughtful word document of say 200 words, and upload it.

There are a lot of bad opinion polls, but there are a few good ones. The good ones include the General Social Survey, the Harris Poll, and the Roper Poll. To see the General Social Survey and work with it go to:

Believe it or not, these polls can estimate attitudes of all U.S. households with about 2,000 surveys. Such polls have errors, but if the errors are random, then the estimates provided by these poll results are unbiased. To learn more about such a topic take a research methods course.

This current example uses a 2000 Roper poll to get at race differences in how people view the police.
Follow these directions step by step and you will be fine!.


1.   Browse to PALEY main page. Click on databases.

2.   Click on Roper Opinion Poll

3.    You will then have to log in; use your Temple email. You will then need to enter your TU email again, and go through a registration process. You are also going to have to agree to terms of usage.

4.   In the box search for enter police. A bunch of items should open up in a tab, starting with the most recent. You can see the different polls and the questions they asked. Look at items listed # 6 # 7 and # 8  all of which have to do with police. If you click on question details you can look at the frequency distributions on each of these items: what percentages of a nationally representative sample gave what answers

5.   This was a lot of fun but it was just a warmup and a lookaround. Click back until you are back at the page you used to start your search. See a tan box on the right? There is an option Data Analysis Tools. Click on that. The “IDEAS Tools page” comes up. Search for a study called New York Times Poll: Race Relations in America [June, 2000]. Right now (4/9/08, 9:38 pm DST) it is the second study down in the list.

6.   Click on analyze study. A page should come up that gives you options for entering row and column variables.

7.   Click on View Codebook in Separate Window. This is a separate window that shows you all the variables, and their variable names (in orange) so you can get a sense of what is in the survey overall.

8.   Go back to the rows and columns entry box page. The row variable that you specify is the specific question you want to look at. If you click on the button just to the right of this box, different questions pop up. If you pick just a row variable, and specify nothing else, and then click on Run the Table it will show you the distribution of all scores on the variable. The variable I am suggesting you explore is: Just your impression, are blacks in your community treated less fairly than whites in dealings with the police, such as traffic accidents? Note, however, that if you look further in the table there are other questions about the police. See questions 61 through 66.  You can look at those if you wish.

9.   Under Options you will see that “include column percents” and “weight tables” are both checked by default. Leave it that way. Column percents will tell you the percent of each group picking each response. The weight tables will apply a weighting so that the results are representative of the U.S. population.

10.  If you want to select a respondent characteristic, you must specify it as a column variable. You can click on the little tab just to the right of the entry box, and scroll down until you get to race.

11.  Click on the Run Tables command. Your table should be generated.

12.  To save the table, print it to a pdf file.

13.  A note about the color coding of the cells in the tables you see. The dark blue is telling you that the percent of that group giving that answer is much lower than would be expected if there were no relationship between group status and answers to the question. The deepest pink is telling you that the percent of that group giving that answer is much higher than would be expected if there were no relationship between group status and answers to this question. In short the color codes suggest rejecting the null hypothesis. To interpret look for sizable differences between blacks and whites on the column percent endorsing a response code.

14. If you are feeling very frisky, you could try seeing if your relationship holds up in different parts of the country (creg4), or for different income groups (inca = variable name) by entering one of these as a control variable. If you are already confused don’t do this. These are called three way crosstabs.

Before you write your answer to the key question, look at your data and be sure you can answer the following questions from your main crosstab:

If you cannot easily answer each of these questions go see your instructor or your TA before you write up your results and interpretation.


  1. Using race differences on answers to Q52, describe as precisely as you can the group difference between Blacks and Whites.

  2. You may expand this, if you wish, by also describing race differences on one or more other justice opinion questions (61-66). Again, describe each difference as precisely as you can.

  3. Offer different potential theoretical explanations -- at least 2, no more than 3 -- of the processes that give rise to these racial differences. What processes are taking place that create these attitude differences. (You need not stick to Black. Feel free to be creative.

  4. Thinking about just one of the processes that you have mentioned above, propose a specific survey question -- it need not be one that appears in one of these surveys -- that would get at each this process.

  5. Copy and paste  your table to the bottom of your document. You will either need to have the table up on your screen when you copy and paste (use paste special, html formatted text in Word) 

That done, upload to TURNITIN!  Be sure you have addressed all points to get full credit.

250 words, typed, double spaced, 12 pitch font, 1 inch margins.


(to be developed)