After ‘The Slap,’ Will Smith’s Popularity Takes a Serious Hit

A post-Oscars survey reveals that the “King Richard” star’s favorability rating is now 51%, nearly 30 points lower than in 2020
April 01, 2022 at 12:01 am UTC

The fallout from the Oscars’ most infamous moment continues. New Morning Consult data reveals that Will Smith’s popularity has taken a nosedive after the best actor winner slapped comedian Chris Rock on stage at Sunday’s Academy Awards over Rock’s joke about actress Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife, having short hair.

The incident has also quickly and decisively penetrated the American discourse like few pop culture events before it, as 88% of U.S. adults said they had seen, read or heard at least some about “The Slap” — on par with general awareness of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and well ahead of other major news events.

Will Smith’s Popularity Sees Major Drop After Oscars Slap

The share of respondents who said they have a favorable view of the actor
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Surveys were conducted Sept. 5-9, 2018, Jan. 23-25, 2020, and March 30-31, 2022. The 2018 survey was conducted among a representative sample of 6,609 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-1 percentage point, while the 2020 and 2022 surveys were conducted among representative samples of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Slap sends public opinion of Will Smith plunging

  • Following his slap of Rock, Smith’s favorability rating was 51% — a drop-off of 29 percentage points from a January 2020 survey. In the aftermath of the incident, comedians such as Jim Carrey and Wanda Sykes have criticized Smith’s actions as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ handling of the situation, which included allowing Smith to stay at the ceremony and accept the best actor award for his role in “King Richard.” Smith ranked third on Morning Consult’s 2018 Most Loved Entertainers list, behind only Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jackie Chan.
  • The favorability rating of Chris Rock, whom Smith slapped after the comedian made a “G.I. Jane” comment about Pinkett Smith’s short hair, was 60%. The attention from the moment has benefited Rock: In addition to some Hollywood peers publicly supporting him, ticket sales for Rock’s “Ego Death” tour have soared, with StubHub reporting that it saw more than 25 times the daily sales in the 48 hours following the incident.
  • Two-thirds of respondents said they found Smith’s response to Rock’s joke inappropriate, while one-quarter said it was appropriate. Nine percent said they didn’t know or had no opinion. Meanwhile, roughly half (49%) said Smith should have been removed from the ceremony for his actions, while 36% supported him staying. The day after the Oscars, Smith posted an apology to Rock on Instagram, saying he was “out of line” and “wrong.”
  • While the Academy has launched a formal review of the incident to determine if there will be repercussions for Smith, U.S. adults were roughly split on whether the actor should be invited back for next year’s Oscars. Forty-two percent said Smith should be allowed to attend, while 39% said he should not.

More Americans Have Heard About 'The Slap' Than Most Major News Events

The share of respondents who said they had seen, read or heard at least some about the following events:
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*Indicates survey was conducted among registered voters
Surveys were conducted between Aug. 21, 2021, and March 31, 2022, among representative samples of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults or registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

The slap heard round the world

  • “The Slap” has dominated discourse in the media and around the water cooler, and the data suggests it’s one of the most well-known events in recent months. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they had seen, read or heard at least some about Smith slapping Rock — equal to the share of registered voters who said they’d heard about Russia invading Ukraine.
  • More U.S. adults have heard about “The Slap” than about inflation reaching a 40-year high in February (76%) and about President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address (67%).
  • Awareness of the altercation transcends party lines: 91% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 86% of independents said they have heard at least some about Smith slapping Rock.

The impact

While speculation has run rampant in Hollywood over the potential lasting damage for Smith, one of the industry’s most beloved celebrities, the data suggests he faces an uphill battle to return to the heights of popularity he previously enjoyed. And if the Academy decides to suspend or expel Smith over his conduct, it’d likely be another significant blow to his reputation.

On the other hand, Rock seems positioned to benefit from the incident, as evidenced by the immediate spike in ticket sales for his comedy tour. While Rock acknowledged “The Slap” while performing in Boston on Wednesday, the comedian said he was still processing the altercation and would speak more about it at a later time. There’s little doubt many Americans will be acutely interested in whatever Rock has to say on the subject.

Morning Consult’s survey was conducted March 30-31, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

A headshot photograph of Wesley Case
Wesley Case
Research Editor

Wesley Case is a research editor on the Industry Intelligence team, focusing on coverage of entertainment, brands and sports. Prior to joining Morning Consult, he was an editor at The Athletic and a features reporter and critic at The Baltimore Sun. Wesley graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration in journalism.

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