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Social & Policy Issues

Despite Unrest, Blacks Do Not Feel More Mistreated by Police

Despite Unrest, Blacks Do Not Feel More Mistreated by Police

Story Highlights

  • 18% of U.S. blacks treated unfairly by police within last 30 days
  • Little changed over the past 18 years
  • Self-reports of unfair treatment in other settings also stable

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Despite the significant public attention on confrontations between black citizens and police in Missouri, Maryland and New York over the past year, blacks in 2015 express virtually the same opinions about being mistreated by police as they did in 2013. This year, 18% of adult blacks say there has been an occasion the last 30 days when they personally felt they were treated unfairly in dealings with police, which is virtually the same as the 17% recorded in 2013. This is down from as high as 25% in 2004.

Trend: Can you think of any occasion in the last 30 days when you felt you were treated unfairly in the following places because you were black? How about in dealings with the police, such as traffic incidents?

Gallup first asked this question in 1997, when 15% of U.S. blacks reported feeling the police treated them unfairly, and that percentage has fluctuated only minimally in eight surveys since then. These results are from Gallup's Minority Rights and Relations survey conducted with a random sample of 802 U.S. blacks June 15-July 10.

In similar fashion, there has been no increase this year in the percentage of blacks who say that over the previous 30 days they were treated unfairly because of their race while shopping, dining out, at work or getting healthcare. These personal self-reports also have been remarkably stable over the years.

Can you think of any occasion in the last 30 days when you felt you were treated unfairly in the following places because you were black? June-July 2015 results

More specifically:

  • The highest percentage of blacks reporting unfair treatment because of their race (24%) is in response to a question about shopping in stores. The trend over time on this measure is largely flat, and the lowest percentage saying "yes" is in the two most recent surveys.
  • Twenty percent of black Americans say they have been treated unfairly because of their race while dining out or at a bar, theater or other entertainment place. Blacks' perceptions of unfair treatment in these settings are essentially the same now as they were in 1997, and slightly lower than in surveys conducted in 2002 and 2004.
  • The trend in blacks' perceived unfair treatment at their workplaces follows a pattern similar to perceptions of unfair treatment while dining out. Eighteen percent report unfair treatment at work now, not meaningfully different from previous years.
  • Blacks are least likely to perceive unfair treatment because of their race while getting healthcare for themselves or for a family member. This may reflect that many respondents, particularly younger ones, do not regularly seek healthcare. Gallup has asked this question only three times. The current 12% is not significantly different from the 9% in 2013, and both the 2013 and the 2015 measures are slightly lower than the 20% reading in 2004.

Younger Blacks More Likely to Report Discrimination

There is some variation between broad age and gender groups in reports of discrimination across the five situations. In general, blacks younger than 50 are at least slightly more likely to report discrimination than those who are older, except in the instance of "getting healthcare." Men are more likely than women to report discrimination in dealings with police, but there is little difference by gender across the other four situations.

Can you think of any occasion in the last 30 days when you felt you were treated unfairly in the following places because you were black? June-July 2015 results

Black Americans' Satisfaction With Their Personal Lives at High Point

The Minority Rights survey contained a question asking Americans how satisfied they are with their lives, and 88% of blacks now say they are very or somewhat satisfied. As was the case in 2013, this is essentially the same as the reported satisfaction among whites, reflecting a significant change from surveys conducted between 2001 and 2008, when whites consistently reported higher satisfaction levels. Blacks' satisfaction with their lives is now higher by one percentage point than at any time over the past 14 years and well above the low point of 80% measured in 2008. On the other hand, whites' personal satisfaction is now essentially tied with its lowest point.

Trend among U.S. whites and blacks: Overall, how satisfied are you with your life -- are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied?

Implications

Perceptions of discrimination for blacks in the U.S. as they go about their daily lives -- including interactions with police -- have not changed materially over the past 18 years. This is the case even as news reports, social media and other communication sources focus extensively on examples of discrimination, particularly the highly visible deaths of black citizens at the hands of white police. This can be seen as a positive sign that things are not getting worse, or as a negative sign that things are not getting better. Blacks' reports of satisfaction with the way their daily lives are going is at its all-time high point, providing additional evidence that U.S. blacks' views of their general life conditions have not recently deteriorated.

Despite the lack of significant change over time, the fact remains that almost one in five blacks do report having being treated unfairly by police within the 30 days prior to the interview, and -- as another example -- at least one in four blacks have consistently reported that they felt discriminated against while shopping. The questions ask blacks to report incidents of mistreatment over the past 30 days. It is possible that the percentages reporting such discrimination would be larger if blacks were asked about mistreatment over a longer period. Whatever the case, the data show that instances of perceived discrimination are very real for many blacks in the U.S. today, even if the level of that discrimination has remained fairly constant over the time Gallup has been measuring it.

These self-reports of personal discrimination are different from questions that ask blacks to evaluate their views of the broader situation for U.S. blacks today, including general views of race relations, perceptions of discrimination in local communities more generally and attitudes about the need for new civil rights laws. These measures and others will be discussed in subsequent reports of the results of the 2015 Minority Rights and Relations survey.

Historical data on these questions are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-July 10, 2015, with a random sample of 2,296 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 802 non-Hispanic blacks, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the sample of 857 non-Hispanic whites, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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