Poll: 20 years after murders, majority of African-Americans say Simpson was guilty

O.J. Simpson. (Credit: MGN Online)

O.J. Simpson. (Credit: MGN Online)

WASHINGTON — Twenty years after the start of the O.J. Simpson murder case, attitudes toward Simpson and toward race relations in the country have dramatically changed, according to a new national poll.

Monday night’s release of the CNN/ORC International survey comes just a few days before 20th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, the former football star and actor’s ex-wife, and of Ronald Goldman. The case against Simpson and the ensuing more than eight-month-long criminal trial, dubbed the “trial of the century,” engrossed the nation. Simpson was eventually acquitted.

According to polling in 1994, a large majority of whites thought Simpson was guilty, but 6 in 10 African-Americans believed that the charges against Simpson were not true, a belief that persisted throughout the murder trial and its aftermath.

Twenty years later, the new CNN/ORC poll indicates there has been a turnaround in attitudes toward the former football star, with a majority of blacks (53 percent) now saying that the murder charges against Simpson were true.

“The belief among whites that Simpson was guilty has grown even more, with nearly 9 in 10 whites saying the murder charges were true,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland says.

The percentage of all Americans who say the murder charges against Simpson were true jumped from 66 percent in 1994 to 83 percent now.

Attitudes on race relations in the United States have also changed since Simpson’s murder case gripped the nation.

In 1994, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that less than half the country — and only 44 percent of blacks — thought that race relations in the United States were in very good or fairly good shape. Now those numbers are more optimistic. According to the CNN survey, the percentage of blacks who say that race relations are good has increased 10 percentage points, to 54 percent. Overall, nearly two thirds of all Americans now say that race relations are good.

The CNN poll was conducted May 2-4 and May 29-June 1 by ORC International, with 2,011 adult Americans, including 1,549 whites and 143 blacks, questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.