More Americans See Race Relations Worsening, Poll Finds

By Kevin Sack; Megan Thee-Brenan | International New York Times, July 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

More Americans See Race Relations Worsening, Poll Finds


Kevin Sack; Megan Thee-Brenan, International New York Times


By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed race relations were generally good.

Seven years ago, in the gauzy afterglow of a stirring election night in Chicago, commentators dared ask whether the United States had finally begun to heal its divisions over race and atone for the original sin of slavery by electing its first black president. It has not. Not even close.

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted this month reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad, and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse. By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed that race relations were generally good.

The swings in attitude have been particularly striking among African-Americans. During Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign, nearly 60 percent of blacks said race relations were generally bad, but that number was cut in half shortly after he won. It has now soared to 68 percent, the highest level of discontent among blacks during the Obama years and close to the numbers recorded in the aftermath of the riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.

Only a fifth of those surveyed said they thought race relations were improving, while about 40 percent of both blacks and whites said they were staying essentially the same.

Respondents tended to have much sunnier views of race relations in their own communities.

For instance, while only 37 percent said they thought race relations were generally good in the United States, more than twice that share, 77 percent, thought they were good in their communities, a number that has changed little over the past 20 years.

The nationwide telephone poll of 1,205 people, which focused on racial concerns, was conducted from July 14 to July 19, at the midpoint of a year that has seen as much race-related strife and violence as perhaps any since the desegregation battles of the 1960s. It came one month after the massacre of nine black worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., apparently by a white supremacist, and after a yearlong series of shootings and harassment of blacks by white police officers that were captured by smartphone cameras.

The Charleston shootings, which took place during Bible study on June 17, generated a national outpouring of outrage and grief. The suspect's embrace of the Confederate battle flag in Internet photographs prompted South Carolina's Republican governor, Nikki R. Haley, and its Republican-controlled legislature to order the flag's removal from the grounds of the State House in Columbia.

But despite the perception that the shootings inspired a moment of empathy and reconciliation, the poll suggests that attitudes toward the flag remain deeply divided between whites and blacks, and not just in the South.

When asked how they regarded the battle flag, 57 percent of whites said they considered it mostly an emblem of Southern pride, while 68 percent of blacks said they saw it more as a symbol of racism. …

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