Three in four US black people believe the country's criminal justice system favors whites
66% of nonwhites labeled prejudice a "very serious" problem
How you see race in the United States can depend a lot on your own background.
President Donald Trump’s various responses to clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville this weekend drew widespread condemnation, but also brought decades-old questions to the surface of American political and moral discourse.
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said Tuesday, reverting back to the wording from a statement he made Saturday that pointed blame at counter-protesters as much as white supremacists. “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane … I thought what took place was a horrible moment … but there are two sides.”
There’s not a lot of polling out there on how Americans feel about white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but if the widespread condemnation of Trump’s remarks is a guide, most Americans are opposed.
An avalanche of polling over the last three years, much of it prompted by police killings of African-Americans that grabbed headlines in 2014 and 2015, show how people of different racial backgrounds have wildly different American experiences. Public opinion polling paints a stark picture of wide disparities between African-Americans and other minorities compared to whites. Black Americans perceive – and experience – racial discrimination more than white Americans.
Here’s a look at what the data shows.
A country divided over race
The bottom line is that nonwhites tend to see racial discrimination a lot more than whites do. Take a look at these numbers: An overwhelming 87% of black Americans say black people face a lot of discrimination in the United States, but only 49% of white Americans say the same thing, according to a February poll from the Public Religion Research Institute.
Meanwhile, six in 10 Americans (61%) said racism against blacks is widespread in the United States in a Gallup poll last August – up from just 51% at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term in 2009. But that includes a broad racial split: 82% of blacks vs. just 56% of whites.
And nonwhites take the topic a lot more seriously. A Quinnipiac University poll in March found 66% of nonwhites labeled prejudice a “very serious” problem, while only 39% of whites felt the same way. Meanwhile, one in four whites (25%) said it was not a serious problem and only one in 10 nonwhites (11%) felt the same way.
Looking forward, an overwhelming 88% of blacks say the country needs to keep making changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites. A small majority (53%) of whites agree with them, according to a Pew Research survey from last June. And blacks seem to be less optimistic about that is happening. About half of that group (43%) is skeptical that these changes will ever happen in the United States, while only one in 10 whites (11%) say they’re doubtful the country will eventually change.
Note: Groups of nonwhites include blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native American and Pacific Islander and other races. It’s mainly used when a sample size among an individual race isn’t large enough.
Polls show Hispanics and other races also perceive more racism in the United States. President Trump has repeatedly singled out undocumented immigrants, most of whom are Hispanic, during his campaign and presidency.
The Trump factor
Polls show most Americans think Trump’s campaign and presidency is making a difference when it comes to prejudice in the United States.
More than six in 10 Americans (63%) say the level of hatred and prejudice in the United States has increased since Trump was elected president, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in March. That includes seven in 10 nonwhites (70%) who feel this way.
And blacks are more concerned about it too. A Quinnipiac University poll just before Trump took office in January showed that two in three nonwhites (65%) said they were more concerned about discrimination and violence against minorities under Trump. Only 43% of whites agreed.
But recent Gallup polling shows more than four in 10 Americans (42%) now worry “a great deal” about race relations in the United States – more than doubling since 2014, when African-American deaths made headlines and over the course of the presidential campaign. That number is up 7 percentage points from 2016 data, when a majority of blacks (53%) who worry “a great deal” vs. only 27% of whites who feel the same.
And nonwhites are making a huge difference for Trump’s presidency. At this point in their term, both Obama and Trump had a 46% approval rating among whites, according to Gallup tracking data. But 73% of nonwhites approved of Obama vs. only 15% who say they approve of Trump.
Racism in the real world
But there are also major divides in how Americans see how racism and discrimination changes everyday life for blacks in the United States.
Our friends at the Pew Research Center asked a series of questions last summer that really gets at the heart of how blacks and whites perceive racial disparities in normal life.
The Pew Research Center study reveals wide gaps — of 30 percentage points or more — separating black and white opinions on whether blacks are treated unfairly when dealing with the police, in the court system, when applying for a loan or a mortgage or generally in the workplace. It also shows half of blacks say blacks are treated less fairly in stores and restaurants.
A CNN/ORC poll from 2015 drives this point home. A broad majority of whites (81%) in the United States say they think black people have as good a chance as white people in their communities to get any kind of job for which they are qualified. But a majority of blacks say the opposite: 54% of them say blacks don’t have as good a chance as whites in their communities to get a job they’re qualified for.
A subsequent study by the Pew Research Center last summer showed that blacks with higher education levels were actually more likely to see discrimination. Eight in 10 of blacks with at least some college (81%) said they experienced discrimination vs. six in 10 with a high school diploma or less (59%), according to the Pew Research Center.
Racism even plays a role in some political positions, especially involving Hispanics. A Fox News poll from September found that six in 10 nonwhite voters (61%) believe racism is a major factor in the views of people who want to deport all undocumented immigrations. Only three in 10 white voters (29%) feel the same way.
Criminal justice and race
Racial disparities in the criminal justice system have been in the news for the last several years following a series of high-profile instances of black Americans killed by police, like Eric Garner in New York City, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
A CNN/ORC poll, taken in the midst of several of these police shootings in 2015, showed that a broad three in four blacks (76%) believed the country’s criminal justice system favors whites, while only 19% said the races were treated equally. But among whites, the sides flip: a plurality of whites – 49% - said the race were treated equally vs. 42% who said whites were favored.
And that sentiment echoes in real life experience: Only one in 10 white Americans said they personally had a specific instance when they felt discriminated against by the police because of their race, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from the same time period. But a majority (54%) of blacks said they had personally felt discriminated at some point in time.
The racial divisions continue: three-quarters of blacks say police are more likely to use force against a black person than a white person, while a majority of whites (56%) say race doesn’t matter. A majority of whites (53%) say they are confident police treat whites and blacks equally in the United States vs. a majority of blacks (57%) who say they are “not confident at all.” And six in 10 whites say police shootings of blacks are isolated incidents, while more than seven in 10 nonwhites say they are a sign of broader problems. These stats are according to a CBS/NYT poll and an ABC/Post poll from roughly the same time period.
Because large businesses have encouraged diversity and the government has used programs like affirmative action, some Americans have asserted that racism now swings the other way.
Half of Americans in a Public Religion Research Institute poll last June said they believe discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. But that number is bolstered by almost six in 10 whites (57%) and two-thirds of white working-class Americans (66%). A broad majority of blacks and Hispanics disagree.
Polls were conducted over the last three years, as noted throughout the story, using a representative sample with field dates ranging from four days to three months. Sample sizes are always between 800 and 2,800 adults or voters, as noted throughout the story, for a maximum margin of error of ±3.5 percentage points among the entire population. The margin of error is larger for subgroups like whites and blacks.