Americans Split on Whether Racial-Justice Protests Will Bring Change

Bishop Mark Seitz, center, kneels with other demonstrators at Memorial Park holding a Black Lives Matter sign in El Paso, Texas, on June 1. (Fernie Ceniceros/Catholic Diocese of El Paso via AP)

(CN) — While a majority of Americans believe racial discrimination is a huge problem in the United States, the public is split on whether race relations will be improved by recent racial justice demonstrations according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Monmouth University poll shows that despite the recent wave of protest sweeping across the county in response to the death of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of white police officers, the public is not convinced such demonstrations will help race relations moving forward.

The poll reports that just 21% of Americans think the current movement will help race relations a lot, while nearly a third think it will only help a little. Around a quarter think nothing will change at all and 18% believe that race relations will actually get worse due to recent events.

While Americans are largely divided on how the protests will move the needle on race relations, most concede they will have at least some recognizable impact on the county. Over half (55%) say the current movement will have a long-term effect on race relations in the United States while 32% believe it will at least have a short-term effect. Nearly 1 in 10 believes the current movement will have no real impact at all.

Regardless of how the protests will help to improve race relations in America, a sizeable majority of Americans can agree on one thing: the problem is real. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans say racial or ethnic discrimination in the nation is a big issue, while just 17% say they don’t believe it’s a problem at all. Another 14% acknowledge the problem is real but don’t think it’s a particularly large one.

Wednesday’s numbers on racial discrimination is not the highest it’s been. In early June, shortly after many of the racial equality demonstrations began in earnest, 76% of Americans thought discrimination is a big problem and only 7% felt it isn’t a problem at all.

According to Wednesday’s poll, the downward trend is largely due to growing partisanship on the racial equality issue. A few weeks ago, 54% of Republicans and independents that lean Republican believed that racial discrimination was a big problem but Wednesday’s poll reports that just 40% of them still feel the same. Republicans are also the least likely to believe the current racial equality movement will improve race relations while 35% think race discrimination isn’t even a problem.

These numbers stand in stark contrast to the nearly 9 in 10 people who don’t lean Republican who believe racial discrimination is a big problem — a figure virtually unchanged from the early June poll.

Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said that while the initial events of late spring may have brought people around on the issue of race relations, many Republicans adopted a different approach when the protests got underway. 

“The events of late May sparked a reckoning with racial discrimination for many non-Republicans, but Republican opinion swung in the opposite direction since the protests started,” Murray said with the release of the poll. “It almost seems that even acknowledging the existence of racial inequity can be seen as disloyalty to the party or the president.”

Similar partisan splits appear when respondents were asked specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement and its role in racial equality. While 71% of Americans agree the Black Lives Matter movement has brought some much-needed attention to racial disparity in the United States, just 48% of Republicans feel the same.

Regarding President Donald Trump’s role in these issues, a majority of Americans (62%) feel the president’s handling of the protests and demonstrations has only made the problems worse. Only 20% of Americans feel like Trump has improved the situation, including 40% of Republicans.

Despite what Americans think about how the president has influenced race relations, most agree the country is bitterly divided. Just 18% of Americans feel like the county is united in its most important values, while 78% say the country is greatly divided. 

“This is just one more sign that the president’s approach to governing increasingly pushes Americans to take sides,” Murray said. “There doesn’t seem to be much of an opportunity to find a middle ground anymore.”

Wednesday’s poll of 867 adults has a 3.3% margin of error.

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