Public opinion is complex, and simplifying clear takeaways from polling data is tricky and uncertain. In the Baltimore Banner’s survey of city residents conducted by Goucher College Poll, an overarching pattern emerged: While a large majority of residents (67%) said the city is moving in the wrong direction, a majority were still optimistic about the future of Baltimore.

But we wanted to dig a little deeper to see what other trends emerged. We focused this exploration on questions that grouped Baltimoreans by shared opinions: about city leadership, generally, and the Mosbys, specifically; and about police presence and criminal prosecution. And we also plotted every answer to our poll in an at-a-glance graphic to see what we could learn.

Groups of people with similar opinions

The Banner identified these groups by examining which questions elicited related responses from respondents — that is, if a respondent said issue A was a major issue for Baltimore, what issue B were they likely to also think was a major issue?

No two questions elicited more similar responses from Baltimoreans than the favorability ratings of Nick and Marilyn Mosby. An overwhelming 78.5% of respondents who approved of Nick Mosby also approved of Marilyn Mosby. In the reverse direction, only 7.8% of respondents who disapproved or strongly disapproved of Nick Mosby approved of Marilyn Mosby.

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Interestingly, 70% of Baltimoreans who approved or strongly approved of the job Nick Mosby is doing believe the same about Brandon Scott. This “pro-city leadership” block also holds higher opinions about Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison (48% approval among Mosby supporters versus 32% of the general public), CEO of Baltimore City Schools Sonja Santelises (44% vs 26%), and the Baltimore Police Department as a whole (43.1% vs 31%).

What’s wrong with the Baltimore Police?

One of the most striking findings in the poll is the city’s demand for better safety — one way or another. There was majority support for all crime reduction measures polled, and because of this, all crime-related questions were correlated. Still, there were interesting nuances to Baltimore’s opinions on crime reduction measures.

While all proposals got more yes votes than no votes, there were still those who preferred carrots and those who preferred sticks. Ninety-three percent of the people who supported greater prosecution of nonviolent offenders also supported harsher penalties for violent offenses. On the other hand, only 69% of those who didn’t want to prosecute nonviolent offenders wanted harsher penalties for violent offenders.

These individual preferences also showed up in opinions on social service solutions to crime. Of those who supported greater prosecution of nonviolent offenses, 63% supported allocating funding from the police budget to various social, mental health and drug treatment programs. That number increased to 77% for people who didn’t want greater prosecution of nonviolent offenders. Both groups were in favor of trying it, but one preferred it more than the other.

Baltimore’s residents were so eager to find solutions for crime that their preferences sometimes conflicted. Sixty-two percent of people who wanted to increase the police budget, for example, also supported allocating funding away from the police budget and into social services.

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While these opinions might seem contradictory, there’s another interpretation: People just want change.

Opinions on the problems with the police department differed greatly across demographics. In general, younger, white progressives and Black progressives between 45 and 54 thought that the problems in the Baltimore Police Department are systemic, departmentwide issues. Conservatives and older moderates believed the issues are limited to just a few bad officers.

The most monolithic of all groups were white progressives between 45 and 54 — 91.6% of them agreed that the issues with the BPD are systemic. Just 5.3% thought the issues were limited to a few officers. Maybe unsurprisingly, this was also the most polarized group. White conservatives of the same age range overwhelmingly believed that there are just a few bad apples in the police force by 91.8% to 8.2% .

Opinions were more uniform across ideology for Black respondents, with less disagreement among Black conservatives, moderates and progressives than among white Baltimoreans of different political belief systems.

All in one

Finally, here’s an aggregated view of the whole poll in one go. There is a lot of information to wrap your head around, but once you get the basics, it says a lot about Baltimoreans’ views of their city.

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In general, darker colors represent disapproval — disapproval of politicians, of police handling of public safety, of the job schools are doing — but they also indicate the public thinks something is a major issue. Questions are organized in vertical columns, and each block represents the opinions of 50 respondents. The nearly solid dark blue column for crime tells us that basically everyone surveyed thinks crime is a major issue in Baltimore.

Dark colors also, however, represent support for measures to combat crime. We’re visually grouping these together because both imply frustration with current standards and a desire for something new. The mottled column representing the increased prosecution of nonviolent crime tells us that while a majority still supported the measure, a large bloc of Baltimoreans is totally against prosecuting people for crimes like drug use, petty theft and vandalism.

On the other hand, a light blue block means that respondents had a more positive view of the question asked. Most Baltimoreans surveyed felt safe in their own neighborhood, which is why that column is largely slate blue. Compare that to the nearby column for Baltimoreans’ feelings about safety in the city, which is significantly darker.

A city that was perfectly happy with its leadership and direction would show up all light blue. This is significantly darker than that. As an illustration, our sample of respondents answered 31,602 questions about politicians, issues or problems; 19,280 (62%) of those responses implied negative views of the city or its leadership.

Finally, pinkish areas tell us that respondents didn’t have an answer to the question. The columns for Sonja Santalises and Michael Harrison, in particular, have smatterings of pink throughout, indicating residents just didn’t know what to think. In Santalises’ case, one likely answer seems to be related to people without kids in schools. Respondents who said they were not parents or guardians were nearly twice as likely — 18.8% to 10.7% — to say they didn’t know if they approved or disapproved of Santelises than parents or guardians.

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Nick Thieme designs statistical experiments and analyzes data to discover and improve stories about inequality, human rights, health care, and climate change. He has worked as a data reporter and statistician for a variety of public and private organizations, with writing appearing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Slate Magazine, and elsewhere.

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