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Heightened Racial Concern a Clear Legacy of Floyd's Death

Heightened Racial Concern a Clear Legacy of Floyd's Death

Story Highlights

  • 11% percent of Americans name race as nation's top problem in May
  • May marks a full year of heightened racial concerns since Floyd's death
  • Concern elevated among both White and Black Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A year after George Floyd's death on May 25, 2020, and the racial justice protests that followed, Americans continue to be more focused on race-related concerns than they were prior to those events. So far in 2021, 10% of U.S. adults, on average, have mentioned race relations, lack of racial justice or racism as the most important problem facing the country, up from no more than 4% earlier in 2020.

After surging to 19% in June 2020, the percentage of Americans naming racial matters as the nation's top problem declined to 10% last summer and has since remained near that level, including 11% in the latest Gallup update, conducted May 3-18, 2021.


Line graph. Monthly trend from January 2020 to May 2021 in Americans mentions of race as the most important problem facing the United States. After rising from 4% in May 2020 to 19% in June, it fell to 16% in July and 10% in August. Mentions have since ranged from 8% to 13%, including 11% in May 2021.

One factor potentially keeping race at the forefront of public attention in recent months could be the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty on April 21 of murdering Floyd during their encounter last year. During this period, numerous killings of young Black Americans by police made the news, underscoring the criticisms of policing raised by the Floyd case.

Race a More Prominent National Concern Since 2015

Longer term, Americans have been more cognizant of race as a national problem since 2015 than they had been for the two decades previously. After briefly spiking in 1992 after deadly riots in Los Angeles over the acquittal of White police officers in the Rodney King beating, mentions of race relations fell to no more than 5% in any individual reading for the next 15 years.

Race was also low on Gallup's Most Important Problem list for much of the 1970s and 1980s after figuring as a prominent issue in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights movement.


Line graph. Trend from 1948 to 2021 in Americans' mentions of race relations as the most important problem facing the country. Highest was 52% in 1963. Percentage fell to low single digits in 1970s and 1980s before spiking to 15% in 1992. It fell again to low levels through the 1990s through 2014. Since then it has been mostly about 5% with surges at certain times including 18% in 2016 and 19% in 2021.

Public reaction to news about young Black men being killed by police, the acquittal of police in some cases, and publicity around Black Lives Matter protests in response to these events explains much of the public's focus on the issue in recent years. This includes protests in New York City in December 2014 after a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold. Sharp increases in mentions also occurred after the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in 2016 and a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017 that ended in violent clashes between White nationalist protestors and counter-protestors.

However, as Gallup has reported previously, mentions of race relations in the aftermath of the 2020 spike have remained elevated longer than they did after any other concern-provoking event.

Floyd's Death Sparked Bigger Shift in White Than Black Americans' Thinking

Mentions of race as the nation's top problem have remained elevated since Floyd's death among both White and Black Americans. However, mentions are far higher among Black Americans, averaging 25% in the current quarter to date than among White Americans (8%).

Quarterly trends since 2011 in Gallup's monthly measurement of the Most Important Problem question show that Black Americans' focus on race as the top problem has been relatively high every quarter since Floyd's death. However, those levels are not dissimilar to other times from 2016 to 2019 when the deaths of Black men at the hands of police captured public attention and more than one in five Black Americans mentioned racial matters as the most important problem.

The average 8% of White Americans citing race as the top problem in recent polling, and the average 10% last summer, are among the highest quarterly averages Gallup has recorded for this group in the past decade.


Line graph. Quarterly trend in White and Black Americans mentions of race as the top problem facing the country. Both groups had low mentions from 2011 to 2014 but have since been higher. Mentions among Black Americans have consistently exceeded 10% in recent years and often exceeded 20%, including 25% in April/May 2021. Mentions among White Americans have varied from 2% to 10% and was 8% most recently.

Hispanic Americans' likelihood to mention race as the top problem also increased following Floyd's death, from 4% in the first quarter of 2020 to 16% by the third quarter -- and is 12% in the most recent 2021 quarter. As evidenced by these figures, Hispanics' focus on the issue has tended to fall halfway between that of White Americans and Black Americans.

Bottom Line

The racial issues pushed to the forefront of national discourse by George Floyd's death a year ago remain more prominent in Americans' minds today than they were at the start of 2020. Although public concern about race is not at the peak level found last June, the country remains affected.

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