As protests against police violence toward Black Americans continue on, public opinion about racism in American society and over the related protests are becoming more divided by party, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.
Overall, Americans are now less likely than they were earlier this summer – when protests sparked by the death of George Floyd began – to say that racism is a big problem in society (67% said so then, 55% feel that way now). And while there has been some decline across party lines in that sentiment, the drop has come most sharply among Republicans. In June, 43% said racism was a big problem in society; now, just 22% say the same. Among Democrats, 84% feel that way, compared with 90% in June. Among independents, 57% say it’s a big problem vs. 63% in June.
The partisan dynamic is similar in the poll’s findings about peaceful protests in response to incidents where African Americans have been harmed or killed by police. Overall, 72% call those protests justified, down from 84% in June, and the shift has again been steepest among Republicans (from 79% saying they were justified in June to 60% now).
Fewer overall (24%) say that violent protests are justified in this situation, but that number holds largely steady compared with June (27%).
The results come following a summer of President Donald Trump contending that Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate” and arguing that the protests are a portent of a violent future should Democratic nominee Joe Biden win the presidency.
A majority, though, hold favorable views of the Black Lives Matter movement, 51% favorable vs. 38% unfavorable. That favorability rating far outpaces Trump’s own; an earlier release from the same poll showed 40% hold a favorable view of Trump, 56% unfavorable. Democrats largely view the Black Lives Matter movement favorably (83%), about half of independents agree (50%), and among Republicans, just 17% say they have a favorable view.
Most Americans continue to say the President’s response to the protests has been harmful, and people are divided over whether federal government intervention is warranted when protests do turn violent.
Overall, 58% call Trump’s response to the protests harmful, down from 65% who said the same in June. Again, the shift is largely among Republicans. Now, 72% of the President’s partisans say his response to the protests has been helpful, up from 62% in June. Among independents and Democrats those numbers are steady.
Trump has repeatedly called for federal intervention in cities where protests have turned violent, and the poll finds an even split over that idea: 48% support it, 47% oppose it. Views on this are also sharply partisan (81% of Republicans support it, just 21% of Democrats agree), and split by race: most Whites support it (51%), while most people of color oppose it (53%).
The President’s approval rating for handling race relations has improved somewhat, according to the poll, but that too is the result of a partisan shift. Among Republicans, approval has climbed from 73% to 83% since June. Among Democrats (1% now vs. 2% in June) and independents (26% approval now vs. 29% then), it hasn’t changed significantly.
More generally, amid the coronavirus pandemic, racial strife and an economic struggle, Americans’ perceptions of how things are going in the country has shifted deeply negative (64% say things are going badly in the country, compared with 43% who felt that way in January). There’s still a broad partisan gap on this question, as there was in January, with 90% of Democrats saying things are going badly and 69% of Republicans saying they’re going well.
But despite the overall negative sense of how things are going, the poll finds one optimistic note. Six in 10 Americans feel this summer’s protests will lead to real changes in the treatment of Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities in America, with surprising agreement across demographic groups. 62% of Whites feel that way, as do 61% of people of color. Majorities of women (65%), men (56%), young people (57%), and seniors (64%) all see change as likely.
The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS August 28 through September 1 among a random national sample of 1,106 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.