Poll: Americans Still Believe In ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty,’ Even For College Students

Poll: Americans Still Believe In ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty,’ Even For College Students

It’s easy for supporters of victims’ rights to dismiss any protections for those accused of sexual assault. Just look at the hysterical reactions to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s latest actions on the topic: yesterday, a coalition of groups, including the National Women’s Law Center, sent a letter to Devos claiming that her decision was an “attack on survivor rights.”

It’s frightening that legal minds and educated people see the inclusion of due process rights as “an attack on survivor rights.” Giving both sides rights doesn’t hurt the rights of either. The problem is that these people now equate accusers with “survivors” and insist they “must be believed.” But if this is true, why have a process at all? If an accusation equals guilt, there’s no need for even a sham of a process. Why even include due process in the criminal justice system?

More sensible people realize that due process is not an impediment to justice, but in fact necessary to ensure fairness.

When asked about the topic individually, rather than using hysterical statements like those from the NWLC, people are predictably in favor of the constitutional rights to due process. Even self-identified Democrats.

Across Political Spectrum, Americans Support Due Process

In a recent survey from the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy, conducted by YouGov between July 25 and August 1 of this year, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that due process is necessary for those accused of the heinous crime of sexual assault.

Sixty-five percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans, and 67 percent of Independents told researchers they agreed with the statement: “Students accused of crimes on college campuses should receive the same civil liberties protections from their colleges that they receive in the court system.”

Sixty-one percent of all respondents—including 58 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Independents—agreed that accused students should have the right to cross-examine their accusers.

Further, 71 percent of respondents said accused students should be punished under the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence. Currently, a student can be expelled under the much lower “preponderance of evidence” (more likely than not, or a better-safe-than-sorry shrug) standard. A full 81 percent of respondents said the accused should have the right to know the charges against them (because currently, that’s not required and many schools don’t tell the accused of what they are being accused).

Respondents Still Believe Sexual Assault Is A Problem

Lest one think this survey was all about constitutional rights, just 17 percent of respondents said sexual assault was not a major problem on college campuses.

Predictably, 69 percent of respondents (including 65 percent of Democrats) said sex assault allegations should be handled primarily by police.

Respondents were split on whether it is better to punish the innocent over letting the guilty go free. By a slight majority, the protection of civil liberties won, with 51 percent saying they should be provided “even if it means some crimes go unpunished. Forty-nine percent said the investigations should “be designed to protect victims [read: accusers], even if it means some innocent people are punished for things they did not do.”

Like any self-reported survey, take this one with a grain of salt. A sample of 1,200 was used to create the survey, and college graduates were oversampled (meaning they could have attended school outside of the current moral panic-fueled outrage).

However, these findings suggest that—despite the outrage on the left—Americans may in fact agree with DeVos that “innocent until proven guilty” still matters.

Ashe Schow is a senior contributor to the Federalist and senior political columnist for the New York Observer. She also contributes to a weekly segment on the Enough Already podcast. She has previously worked for Watchdog.org, the Washington Examiner and the Heritage Foundation.
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