Where Views On Race And Police Stand A Year After George Floyd's Murder

May 17, 2021
Originally published on May 17, 2021 8:20 am

White and Black Americans have very different views of race in America and have had very different experiences when it comes to dealing with discrimination and trusting police, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll details.

And three-quarters of American adults agree with the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, though about half of Republicans and Trump supporters think it was either the wrong decision or they aren't sure.

The survey also found a big gender gap on the threat of white supremacy. Americans are split on whether it represents the "most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today," as President Biden said recently. The majority of women said it does; the majority of men said it doesn't.

The findings underscore the often-sharp differences Americans have when it comes to race, discrimination and policing ahead of the first anniversary of Floyd's death and as Biden and allies make a push on Capitol Hill for policing reform.

But the pollsters also found some room for optimism in the results: The percentage of Americans saying race relations are worse than a year ago has declined; most Americans believe police use-of-force guidelines should be reformed; and a majority of Americans think race relations will be better for future generations, with younger people being among the most likely to say so.

"The country has gone through a lot in the last couple of years, and there is a sense of optimism for the future," said Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, adding, "The change to the Biden administration has reinforced that for Democrats and people of color and independents."

The survey also found almost three-quarters of American adults say they have either gotten or will get a COVID-19 vaccine, unchanged from the previous month, though 4 in 10 Republicans continue to say they will not get one.

Live interviewers spoke with 1,249 adults from May 4-10, and the poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. The sample included 1,075 registered voters with a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. There were 371 Democratic respondents with a +/- 6.1 percentage-point margin of error, 285 Republicans for a margin of error of +/- 7 percentage points and 374 independents for a margin of error of +/- 6.1 percentage points.

Race and trust in police

Just 30% of American adults said they have often or sometimes personally experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity.

But that is very different along racial and ethnic lines. Just 15% of white people said they have experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly based on their race, while 61% of Black Americans and 39% of Latino people said they have.

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Republicans (91%) were far more likely than Democrats (62%) to say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in police officers in their communities to gain the trust of local residents.

That bipartisan trust doesn't extend to Black Americans. Just 46% of Black adults express at least a fair amount of confidence that local police can gain trust.

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Sixty-one percent of Black Americans also said they think local police treat people of color more harshly than white people. Just a quarter of white respondents agreed. Latino people were split. Overall, 32% of adults said they thought people of color were treated more harshly than white people, but that is up 7 points since 2015, the last time the question was asked.

There have been numerous high-profile cases of police violence involving Black Americans and multiple demonstrations bringing light to the issue.

Predictably, there was a huge divide on the question based on who someone voted for, as almost 6 in 10 Biden supporters said people of color are treated more harshly, while 8 in 10 Trump supporters said they're treated the same.

People had far more confidence in the police to keep them safe and protect them from violent crime. About three-quarters of respondents, including a strong majority of Black Americans, said so.

It is notable, however, that Black Americans and younger Americans were the least likely to agree with that.

Two-thirds of respondents said they believe current policies regarding police use of force need reform. But again there was a sharp divide along party lines — 92% of Democrats and 66% of independents said the policies should be reformed, but just 33% of Republicans thought so.

There was, however, near-universal support for police wearing body cameras.

When it came to the Chauvin verdict, three-quarters said it was the right decision, including half of Republicans. The other half of Republicans either thought it was the wrong decision (33%) or they weren't sure.

Let's talk (or not)

Almost 9 in 10 respondents said they are comfortable talking about race with friends and family, though only two-thirds said they actually have talks at least sometimes.

White people were far less likely to say they have such discussions than Black Americans. But there was a big educational divide among white people, as white people with college degrees were far more likely to say they have those conversations than white people without degrees.

Those who live in small towns and white evangelical Christians were also far less likely to have those discussions than their big city and suburban counterparts.

There was also a wide generation gap. Those in the Greatest Generation — people 74 years of age or older — were far less likely to say they have those conversations than millennials or those in Gen Z.

Notably, those groups all divide fairly cleanly along party lines. Whites with college degrees, African Americans, younger Americans and those who live in cities and suburbs are far more likely to identify as Democrats. Whites without degrees, those who live in small towns, white evangelical Christians and older Americans are strong parts of the Republican coalition.

Hopeful about race relations

For all the division, Americans are generally hopeful that race relations for future generations will be better than they are now. Almost 6 in 10 said so with Democrats, white people with college degrees, younger and Black Americans the most likely to say so.

Republican men and Trump supporters were the most likely to say things would get worse, just as they were among the most likely to say things had gotten worse for race relations in the past year.

Overall, 42% said race relations in the country had gotten worse in the past year, 39% said they were about the same, and just 17% said things had gotten better. That 42%, though, is the lowest percentage to say that things have gotten worse in the past six years.

Looking at the last time the question was asked, in August 2017 when Donald Trump was president, far fewer Democrats, Black Americans and Latino people said things had gotten worse. Republicans, on the other hand, had spiked considerably.

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A slim majority of Americans (51%) said they approve of how Biden is handling race relations, including half of independents and 85% of Democrats. Just 14% of Republicans approve.

A third of Americans think race relations under Biden will get better, a third think they will stay the same, and about a third think they will get worse or aren't sure.

That's an improvement from Trump's early days, when a majority of Americans expected race relations to get worse.

Vaccines

The percentage of American adults saying they will get a COVID-19 vaccine (14%) or have already gotten one (59%) held steady at 73% this month.

There is a question, though, of whether the country has hit a plateau, as daily vaccinations continue to decline and as a quarter of Americans continue to say they will not get vaccinated — a number that has held steady since March.

The least likely to say they will get vaccinated continue to be Trump supporters (43%) and Republicans (41%), particularly Republican men (44%). But a third of Americans under 45 also say they will not get the shot.

There is no real statistical difference in hesitancy between white and Black Americans — 73% of white Americans say they've either gotten the vaccine or will get it; 75% of Black Americans said the same (69% of Latinos also said so).

Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of providing doses of vaccines to other countries that need it — 84% said it's a good idea.

How's Biden doing?

Biden continues to get good marks on handling the coronavirus. He gets a 66% approval rating for it in this poll, including from a third of Republicans.

For the overall job he's doing, the president retains a 53% approval rating, about the same as last month.

When it comes to the economy, it's a similar 51% approval rating, 3 points lower than last month. That's something to watch, but it's still within the margin of error of the 54% he got last month and the same as his rating in late March.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Americans have very different views when it comes to race, discrimination and trusting the police. A new poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist details just how deep these divides are. The survey results come as we approach the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis. A former police officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of Floyd's murder.

NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here to talk about all this. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So on its face, learning that Americans are divided when it comes to race and the police, this is something that we sort of know intuitively. But what did the survey really bring to the fore for you?

MONTANARO: Yeah, you know, there were usual gaps when it comes to political leanings and some, you know, usual findings when it comes to race. But let's take whether people had personal experience with discrimination or feel that they'd been treated unfairly because of their race. You know, just 15% of whites said that's happened to them, but 61% of African Americans said it has, so you can see just how big that gap is of understanding; of Latinos, it was 39%. When it came to policing, whites, Latinos and Republicans had far more confidence than Black Americans in their ability to gain the trust of residents in their communities.

And on whether police treat African Americans more harshly than whites, only a quarter of whites thought so, but most Black Americans did. It was also interesting that almost 9 in 10 respondents said they're comfortable talking about race with friends and family, but only two-thirds said they actually have those talks, and the groups who are most likely to do so lean Democratic.

MARTIN: So we mentioned at the top that this survey comes as we anticipate marking one year since George Floyd's killing. Did the survey ask explicitly about how people witnessed or observed his murder and the aftermath?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Largely there was broad agreement. Three-quarters of respondents thought that the guilty verdict was the right one. But we do see a bit of a partisan gap here. About half of Republicans and Trump supporters think it was either the wrong decision or they're not sure. Remember, though, this was a unanimous jury decision, and not everything is filtered through politics, especially in the court of law, or shouldn't be. Floyd's killing, you know, has sparked calls for police reform. The survey finds broad support, for example, reforming police use-of-force policies - again, though, sharp divide along party lines. Democrats and independents said the policy should be reformed, but only a third of Republicans thought so. One policy area where there was near-universal support, and this could be for lots of their own reasons, was for police wearing body cameras.

MARTIN: You know, you can hear all of this, and you can start to feel hopeless about the state...

MONTANARO: Sure.

MARTIN: ...Of America. Was there anything optimistic in the survey results, Domenico?

MONTANARO: Yeah, there was some. I mean, most said that they believe, for future generations, for example, that race relations will be better than they are now. Fewer people than we've seen in the past six years are saying race relations in the country are - have gotten worse. Of course, there's a lot of politics wrapped up in that. For a lot of people, just simply that switch from Trump to Biden made a huge difference.

And speaking of Biden, slim majority approves overall of how he's handling race relations. That's about where his overall job approval rating has been. But certainly, he has got lots of challenges on this, especially in trying to press ahead for a deal on police reform. You know, Biden's going to have a lot of challenges to come on some foreign policy issues, as we've seen, some domestic things, like those rising gas prices, et cetera. But so far, his handling of COVID has kept him above 50%.

MARTIN: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

MARTIN: And just a note, for more on that poll, you can see Domenico's full story at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.