GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
PRINCETON, NJ -- As the NAACP meets for its 92nd annual convention in New Orleans this week, a new Gallup Poll Social Audit reveals broad differences between the views of white and black Americans about the state of U.S. race relations.
Perceptions Of Black/White Relations In Local Communities
While nearly seven in 10 whites (69%) say that blacks are treated "the same as whites" in their communities, this view is held by only 41% of blacks. The gap between black and white opinion on this question is a long-term fixture of American racial opinion that has shown only a modest narrowing in the past thirty-five years. The long-term trend for black perceptions has been a broad positive movement over the course of several decades, followed by a decline in perceptions of equality of treatment, as compared to the optimistic views expressed in 1997. White perceptions of the treatment of blacks in their communities have also fallen off over the last few years.
Similar differences exist between whites' and blacks' assessments of equal educational and housing opportunities in their communities. Eight in 10 whites, but only half of blacks, view the educational opportunities for black and white children as equal. Over the past several measurements, blacks have become more pessimistic about equal educational opportunities than they had been in the early and mid 1990s. The remarkable result of this shift is that the opinions expressed by white and black Americans -- and the 36-percentage point gap between them -- are almost identical to those expressed nearly forty years ago.
The gap between blacks' and whites' perceptions of equal housing opportunities has grown over the past decade. In 1989, a 20-point gap was recorded. Over the past several measurements, black respondents have become more pessimistic about equal housing opportunities than they were as recently as four years ago. Today the gap stands at 35 points -- as large as it has ever been -- with 83% of whites but only 48% of blacks perceiving equal housing opportunities in their communities.
Blacks are much more likely than whites to perceive unfair treatment of blacks in several settings in their communities. In particular, 35% of white adults, compared to 66% of blacks, believe that blacks are treated less fairly by the police in their communities.
Perceptions Of Black/White Relations In The Nation
Black Americans' assessments of the current state of race relations in the United States have been slightly more negative in each of the last two surveys (currently 37%, compared to 27% in the fall of 1998, characterize them as "somewhat" or "very" bad). White evaluations have been stable over this period -- 29% currently give a negative evaluation.
Nearly four in 10 whites, but only 9% of blacks, say that blacks are treated the same as whites in the nation. A majority of blacks express pessimism about whether a solution to the problems of black/white relations in the United States will ever be reached. Indeed, black Americans are as pessimistic as they have been since the question was first asked in 1993, with 66% claiming that race relations will always be a problem in this country. At the same time, white Americans express less pessimism about the future of black/white relations than at any time since 1993. Currently, 45% of whites say that race relations will always be a problem. The 21-point gap between white and black Americans' expectations for the future of race relations is the largest that Gallup has recorded.
Personal Experience Of Discrimination
Nearly half of black Americans (47%) feel that they were treated unfairly because of race in at least one of five common situations in the past month. More than one in four blacks (27%) say they feel they have been treated unfairly in the past month while shopping in a store. Twenty-one percent of black adults overall, and 31% of black men, report unfair treatment in the past thirty days at the hands of the police.
Large differences between black and white Americans' perceptions of police fairness underscore the importance of this issue in understanding the racial divide in the United States. Nearly nine out of 10 whites feel that they are treated fairly by state or local police, as do just over half of all blacks. This gap in perception of treatment by the police is significantly larger than the one recorded in 1999, when blacks were much less likely to claim unfair treatment. Forty-four percent of blacks feel that, at some point in their lives, the police have stopped them because of their race or ethnic background. The practice of "racial profiling" is believed to be widespread by 83% of blacks, but by only 55% of whites.
Government's Role/Affirmative Action
Blacks are more likely than whites to believe that the government should make every possible effort to improve the social and economic position of blacks and other minority groups. A majority of blacks (57%) favor an increase in affirmative action programs, while whites prefer to keep them at current levels (36%) or decrease them (33%). Although the trend on this question extends back only to 1995, there has been evidence of modest convergence of the views of black and white Americans on this issue. Since the question was first asked, blacks are slightly less eager to increase affirmative action programs, while whites are slightly less eager to decrease them.
Best Group for Solving Community Problems, Race Relations
When asked to evaluate the job that each of six groups is doing to solve their communities' most important problems, both black and white Americans rate religious organizations and local schools higher than local businesses, local, state and federal government. Blacks give significantly lower ratings to all groups than do whites.
Gallup also asked which one of these groups would do the best job of improving race relations in this country. Americans are divided between those who feel religious organizations and local schools would do the best job. Blacks are more likely to choose religious organizations (26%) than local schools (17%), while whites pick local schools (30%) over religious organizations (22%).
The study is based on 2,004 telephone interviews conducted March 23 - May 16, 2001, with a randomly selected sample of adults in the continental United States. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error for percentages is not greater than plus 4 percentage points. The parallel margins of sampling error are plus 4 percentage points for the sample of 895 white respondents, and plus 5 percentage points for the sample of 1,003 black respondents.