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Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Americans Side With Voting Rights Reforms

March 1965 was an active period in the civil rights movement, focused on securing voting rights that were being denied to blacks through various means in the South. A historic Alabama march, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., began on March 7 with a brutal police crackdown on the marchers in the city of Selma and ended on March 25 in Montgomery, the state capital. During this time, President Lyndon Johnson called for new legislation to prohibit what he called "systematic and ingenious discrimination" that was keeping blacks from voting. Johnson mentioned some of the barriers in a March 15 speech, saying,

"Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes. Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application.

"And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write. For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin."

That speech was on a Monday. By Thursday, Gallup was in the field asking Americans for their reactions to Johnson's proposal, and the answer was largely positive. Three-quarters of Americans, including 49% of white Southerners, favored a law that would "make sure Negroes and whites are given an equal opportunity to register and to vote."

Americans' Views on Equal Voting Rights, 1965
A law has been proposed (by President Johnson) that would allow the federal government to send officials into areas where the turnout of eligible adults in the last presidential election was so low that it suggested that some persons were denied the right to vote. These officials would make sure Negroes and whites are given an equal opportunity to register and to vote. Would you favor or oppose such a law?
U.S. adults% White Southerners%
Favor 76 49
Oppose 16 37
No opinion 8 14
Gallup, March 18-23, 1965

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

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