Whites Are Way More Lenient On Sterling, Unless They Follow The NBA

In the past week, two polls have tried to dope out the public's thoughts on the NBA forcing Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers. Both tell you approximately what you'd expect, but the ways they differ are a little more interesting.

Last Wednesday, HuffPo/YouGov released the results of a major poll on Donald Sterling, which asked, among other questions:

Would you support or oppose the following actions to protest Donald Sterling: The NBA forcing Sterling to sell the team.

The pollsters found an enormous racial split here—74 percent of black respondents answered "support," compared with just 41 percent of white respondents; in total just 47 percent of respondents supported a forced sale. The results of the poll were notable enough to warrant a mention in Ezra Klein's race-in-the-age-of-Obama thinkpiece. (Klein actually used the poll's even-larger Democratic/Republican split—42 percentage points—as a proxy for race.)


This Saturday, The New York Times/CBS News released the results of their poll, which asked:

Should Donald Sterling be forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, or not?

As you can see in the comparison above, the NYT/CBS poll saw a much smaller 18 percentage point race gap; in total a majority of respondents (66 percent) were in favor of a forced sale. Outside of the "support/oppose" vs. "should/shouldn't" response wording—which could explain some of the difference we're seeing—the polls were phrased similarly, were conducted at similar times, and both had sufficiently large sample sizes. What gives?


The critical difference is this: YouGov polled all adults, and on this question NYT/CBS polled only adults who reported that they "followed the NBA." This difference had no significant impact on black respondents, but white NBA fans—be it because they've had more exposure to Sterling's overwhelming shittiness, or because white people who avoid the NBA likely count a number of Sterlingish racists in their camp—appear to be much more supportive of the sale than their NBA-avoiding counterparts.