A week after slapping Chris Rock during the Oscars telecast, more people are expressing unfavorable views of Will Smith, according to data from a Yahoo News/YouGov poll. Smith stormed the stage at the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, after Rock made a bald joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has experienced hair loss due to alopecia.
The incident tainted the first Oscar win of Smith’s blockbuster career, which came moments later, and overshadowed accomplishments from the night’s other nominees and winners.
Both the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the actors union SAG-AFTRA are weighing whether to penalize Smith. Smith has preemptively resigned from the Academy, whose officers are due to meet on Friday to determine any punishment.
Rock, meanwhile, declined to press charges against Smith. Regardless, the story has certainly played out in the court of public opinion.
The Yahoo News/YouGov poll, which gathered data from March 31 to April 4, shows that 47% of those surveyed view Smith unfavorably. That’s up from 37% in a similar poll conducted solely on March 28, the day after the Oscars.
A majority of people questioned in the new study (67%) believe Smith’s actions were wrong; 16% said he was right and 17% responded they were not sure.
The poll surveyed 1,618 adults, with 63% identifying as white, 12% as Black and 16% as Latinx. While the majority of respondents, which comprised 51% women, thinks Smith should keep the Best Actor Oscar he won for playing the father of Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard, 28% believe his statuette should be taken away, and 22% were unsure.
While some initially theorized the Academy could strip Smith of his Oscar, that course of action seems unlikely. Whoopi Goldberg, an Oscar winner and member of the Academy’s Board of Governors, stated last week that Smith should keep his trophy.
“If Harvey Weinstein still has his Oscars on his mantle, if Kevin Spacey has his on his mantle, if a number of individuals who have had verified transgressions that rise to the level of criminality to an extent and sexual abuse and sexual-assault allegations over and over, it’s surprising to me that there is such a healthy population within this survey, who’s undecided about that,” Shaun Fletcher, a public relations expert and San Jose State University professor, told Yahoo. “That strikes me as sort of a referendum on how society is viewing and selectively deciding what is worthy of outrage and what’s not.”
While the Academy Awards telecast was seen by 16.6 million people, according to Nielsen ratings, the second smallest audience ever, the survey suggests that 92% of Americans have heard “a lot” or “a little” about the slap.
One question posed in the poll asked, “Is it sometimes, always or never right for one person to physically strike another person for insulting a loved one?” A significant portion of respondents (35%) said it’s “right” to hit someone “always” or “sometimes” in a scenario where a loved one is insulted. Meanwhile, 50% said it was “never right” and 15% were unsure.
Smith apologized to the Academy and the night’s other honorees in a tearful, intense speech as he accepted his Best Actor award, saying, “Love will make you do crazy things.” However, it wasn’t until the next day that he directly apologized to Chris Rock, via an Instagram post, for “unacceptable and inexcusable behavior.”
“I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.”
While Smith waits to hear the verdict from the Academy on Friday, Fletcher believes the actor will eventually recover from this incident.
“I believe that the Academy will have their moment to where they’re going to make an example of Will Smith. I believe that he will likely not be invited to the Academy Awards next season. I believe that he will likely be disinvited to some of the other shows like the Golden Globes and some of the other entertainment award shows just to have a show of making an example of Will Smith,” the professor said.
“I think at this point, we’re starting to see the damage subside a bit. When Chris Rock decided not to press charges, that was really the end of the sort of scandalous, salacious headlines within all of this. Now it’s reputation management and reputation recovery.”
As for Rock, who has yet to address the incident, his positive favorability with those surveyed was at 55%.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,618 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 31 to April 4, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.