Will the Pandemic Reshape Jury Pools?
Updated: May 11
COVID-19 will reshape a great deal about our justice system, but how and for how long are difficult to predict. One thing we’ve been wondering is, how health concerns and reactions to the pandemic will shape jury panels when they can be, well, empaneled again. In a recent survey, we asked about 300 Americans how likely they would be to skip jury duty even after the stay-at-home orders have been lifted, and fully two-thirds said they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to skip jury duty.
Will jurors who are willing to show up be fundamentally different than those who choose to stay home? In other words, will the selection effect actually change jury dynamics? It seems plausible that jurors who are still willing to go to jury duty would find the virus less concerning. If so, would that also mean they think some states are overreacting? Or that they are less trusting of institutions and experts? If jurors who show up to jury duty later in the summer are less trusting of expertise, that could change the dynamics of an entire trial strategy, particularly for clients who rely on expert testimony and analyti-cally-minded jurors.
We asked each respondent what words they most associated with the pandemic, and what words they most associated with the governments’ response to the pandemic. Then we separated the responses into two sets: one for people who said they would likely skip jury duty, and one for people who said they would not. The wordclouds below show their responses, with more commonly used words ap-pearing larger.
What words do you most associate with the coronavirus pandemic?
As you can see, no matter one’s thoughts on jury duty, our concerns about the virus are all the same. Fear, worry, anxiety, and sadness dominate responses for everyone. There’s no suggestion here that people who are more likely to attend jury duty are actually less worried about the virus than people who think they would stay home.
This doesn’t answer whether or not those jurors will have different views of science or expertise. How-ever, as you can see in the wordclouds below, there are not obvious or significant qualitative differ-ences in how these two groups responded when asked what words they associated with the govern-ments’ response to the crises.
One thing worth noting is that responses to this question are far more varied than the previous ques-tion. Where a handful or words dominated responses to the virus itself, here there is far more diversity in reactions. That said, there is still a high degree of similarity in the most common responses. “Slow” and “good” are common to both, and “incompetent” on one side is matched by “pathetic” and “inadequate” on the other. For both, the impression is largely negative, countered by a large contin-gent of respondents who said “good.”
This suggests that the groups may not be that different in their approach to institutions and experts, and that post-COVID jury pools may not over represent skepticism of expertise as we had feared. In fact, this is confirmed by some quantitative data we gathered as well. We asked how trustworthy people considered scientific and medical experts in general (rated on a scale from 1 to 5), and there is hardly the barest sliver of difference between these groups when it comes to trust of experts.
We will continue to gather and analyze data in the weeks and months ahead so that we - and you - can be prepared for whatever jury pools appear on the other side, but for now at least it appears that there is no reason to believe that venires full of scientific skeptics await.
For more information about this survey, or if you would like to speak with a consultant, please call us at 415-781-5879, or e-mail us at email@example.com.