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Gallup Vault: Americans Slow to Back Interracial Marriage
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Americans Slow to Back Interracial Marriage

Fifty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that a Virginia ban on marriage between whites and blacks was unconstitutional, thus striking down such laws everywhere they existed in the country. In advance of this ruling, Gallup found the American public evenly split: 48% of U.S. adults in January 1965 approved of laws making marriage between blacks and whites a crime, while 46% disapproved.

Americans Split on Interracial Marriage in 1965
Some states have laws making it a crime for a white person and a Negro to marry. Do you approve or disapprove of such laws?
  Total Southern whites Non-Southern whites
  % % %
Approve 48 72 42
Disapprove 46 24 52
No opinion 6 4 6
Gallup, Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 1965

At the time of the poll, 19 states had laws against marriage between whites and blacks, including all 16 states that are commonly considered part of the South. Accordingly, the poll found sharp regional differences on this question. Most Southern whites approved of the laws, while the slight majority of non-Southern whites disapproved.

The original Gallup news release also reported that nearly three in 10 Southern blacks, versus one in seven blacks living outside the South, favored laws making marriage between whites and blacks a crime.

U.S. Opposition Was an Outlier Among Western Nations

A question from a 1968 international Gallup poll underscores the extent of U.S. opposition to interracial marriage during this period. This question, which asked Americans and those in 12 other nations whether they personally approved or disapproved of marriage between whites and nonwhites, found even broader U.S. opposition than the 1965 question.

  • More than seven in 10 Americans (72%) disapproved of white-nonwhite marriages, in contrast with only 21% of residents in Sweden, 23% in the Netherlands, 25% in France, 34% in Finland, 35% in Switzerland and 36% in Greece.
  • Opposition outweighed support in Austria, Canada, West Germany, Norway, Uruguay and Great Britain, but to a far lesser extent than in the U.S.

The 1965 and 1968 U.S. reactions to interracial marriage appear contradictory, but this is because each question measures a different dimension of public opinion. The 1965 question asks for people's views on the legality of interracial marriage -- whether it should be a crime -- whereas the 1968 question merely asks Americans whether they personally approve.

Americans' personal views on interracial marriage eventually changed, but it took decades for majority support to emerge. In 1978, more than a decade after the Loving case, only 36% of Americans approved, while 54% still disapproved. Not until the 1990s did public approval cross the 50% threshold, registering 64% in 1997. Gallup's latest update, in 2013, shows 87% approving.

Read the original Gallup news release.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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