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WASHINGTON – In the hours after a guilty verdict was announced in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, an exclusive USA TODAY/Ipsos snap poll found Americans overwhelmingly approved of the jury's finding.
The survey found 71% of Americans agreed Chauvin was guilty, and most Americans surveyed followed at least some coverage of the three-week trial. When participants were identified by political affiliation, Democrats strongly concurred, at 85%, with Republicans at 55% and independents at 71%. The results were based on an online survey of 1,000 American adults from all states.
Chauvin, who is 45 and white, was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. Chauvin was seen on video pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee last Memorial Day for more than nine minutes after police responded to a report that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill.
"In the verdict, we find a rare moment of bipartisan consensus that George Floyd's killing was a crime and, therefore, consequences are justified," said Cliff Young, president at Ipsos. "However, the perception of what actually happened still depends on Americans' partisan leaning."
FULL RESULTS: Read the USA TODAY/Ipsos poll
A viral video of Floyd's killing, along with the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 2020, sparked international protests for racial justice and police reform. Tuesday’s verdict appeared to bring a catharsis for many Americans in a country wracked by division.
Sixty-two percent of those polled said they would accept the verdict and do nothing further like march or protest; 61% of Democrats and Republicans alike answered that way. About 16% said they would join rallies or protests in accepting the verdict, while a total of 12% said they rejected the verdict, the USA TODAY/Ipsos poll showed.
Chauvin faces 12½ years or 150 months in prison under sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender. But the prosecution argued there were aggravating factors that require a longer prison term. That means Chauvin could face a longer sentence. He returns to court for sentencing in eight weeks.
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Sharper differences around law and order
While most agreed with the verdict's outcome, the poll found differences in public views on the importance of law and order, perhaps further noting partisan differences that have become cemented in the past year.
More than half of respondents – 54% – said they believed "law and order is the most important thing to ensure, even if it means limiting peaceful protests." That answer soared to 73% among Republicans and ticked down to 43% among Democrats. Independents were at exactly half. On the flip side, 38% said the right to protest is paramount, even if violent incidents result, with 53% of Democrats, 36% of independents and 22% of Republicans agreeing.
The killings by law enforcement of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others brought loud calls for change to policing strategies, including a push by some to dismantle law enforcement entirely.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said the verdict that the decisions represented a new era of police accountability to end the "recurring and enduring deaths at the hands of law enforcement."
Hours later, President Joe Biden called for a "moment of significant change" to fight systemic racism in policing, noting the verdict itself was "not enough."
"It can't stop here. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again," he said.
He also pushed for the Senate's passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – named in Floyd's honor – that seeks to bolster police accountability and prevent problem officers from moving from one department to another. The bill, which cleared the House in March, also would end certain police practices that have been under scrutiny.
Different views on circumstances in Floyd's death
Although nearly three-quarters of participants said the jury was correct in convicting Chauvin of murdering Floyd, respondents' opinions were mixed in how the terms they chose to describe the crime.
Of those surveyed, 40% overall said they believed Floyd's death was murder – with 26% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats agreeing — while 32% overall viewed the circumstances around his death as negligence on the part of Chauvin. Few – 11% – said they believed Chauvin's actions were an accident and 5% said he did nothing wrong.
Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, defined as such:
Second-degree murder is causing the death of a human being, without intent to cause that death, while committing or attempting to commit another felony. In this case, the alleged felony was third-degree assault.
Third-degree murder is unintentionally causing someone’s death by committing an act that is eminently dangerous to other persons while exhibiting a depraved mind, with reckless disregard for human life. Chauvin was accused of committing or intentionally aiding in the commission of this crime.
Second-degree manslaughter is culpable negligence where a person creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes the chance of causing death or great bodily harm to someone else. Chauvin was charged with committing or intentionally aiding in the commission of this crime.
News of the livestreamed trial penetrated Americans' lives, according to the Ispos poll. As many as 40% of Americans have consumed "a lot" of media about the Chauvin trial, 27% of respondents said they had watched "some" content related to the trial, and 21% said they had seen "a little." Only 9% of respondents said they had seen nothing about the trial at all.
Of those saying they had seen either much or some of the trial, 76% were Democrats, 62% were Republicans and 61% were independents.
The Ipsos poll was conducted 5-8 p.m. on April 20 for USA TODAY. It has a confidence interval of 3.2 percentage points. Among those surveyed, 262 described themselves as Republicans, 422 as Democrats and 316 as independents.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chauvin verdict poll: Majority approve of guilty finding