|On the heels of new incidents involving police and deaths of black men, the Monmouth University Poll finds that more American voters see racial discrimination as a major problem than did so just over a year ago. Voters say that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought attention to real racial disparities in society, but many – particularly white voters – feel the movement has made things worse. [Note: the interviews for this poll were conducted prior to Sunday’s shootings of Baton Rouge police officers.]
The Monmouth University Poll revisited questions asked after a number of incidents in late 2014 where black citizens died in incidents involving police. Nearly 9-in-10 voters nationwide (87%) consider racial and ethnic discrimination to be a problem in the United States, including 68% who describe this as a big problem. Back in January 2015, 81% saw this as a national problem, but fewer (51%) described it as a big problem than do so today. The feeling that racial discrimination is a big problem has increased among both white (from 44% to 64%) and black (from 67% to 88%) voters, although it has ticked up only slightly among Hispanic voters (from 66% in January to 72% now).
A majority of voters (58%) agree that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought attention to real racial disparities in American society while 35% disagree. Agreement with this statement comes from 83% of black voters, 54% of Hispanic voters and 53% of white voters.
At the same time, many white voters feel that Black Lives Matter has made racial issues worse, while most black voters say the movement has had little impact. Overall, just 10% of voters nationwide say Black Lives Matter has made racial issues in the United States better, 48% say it has made things worse, and 36% say the movement has not really changed things either way. Among black voters, 51% say it has not had much impact, 21% say it has made things worse, and 17% say it has made things better. Among white voters, 55% say Black Lives Matter has made racial issues worse in the country, 9% say it has made things better, and 31% say it has not really changed things either way.
“Most Americans agree that Black Lives Matter has shined a light on important issues of race, but there is a significant split on the impact that attention is having,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The poll also asked about police use of excessive force. A majority of 52% say that police are no more likely to use excessive force in a given situation regardless of whether the culprit is black or white, while 34% say they are more likely to use excessive force if the person is black. This opinion is basically unchanged from December 2014 when 59% said race is not a factor in use of excessive force by police and 32% said it is more likely to happen if the person is black. Among those who say police are more likely to use excessive force against a black person are 77% of black voters (up from 60% in 2014), 38% of Hispanics (similar to 36% in 2014), and 25% of whites (identical to 25% in 2014).
A majority of voters (53%) say that race relations have worsened since Barack Obama became president, which is up from 45% a year and a half ago. Just 10% say this issue has improved during Obama’s tenure, compared to 15% who said the same in 2015. Another 33% say there has been no change in race relations since Obama took office, compared to 38% in the prior poll. Among white voters, 59% say race relations have become worse and 9% say they have gotten better, compared to 50% “worse” and 9% “better” last year. Among black voters, 37% say race relations have become worse and 8% say they have gotten better, which is a negative change from the 28% “worse” and 33% “better” opinion among black voters last year.
It should be noted that Pres. Obama’s overall job rating has held fairly stable over the past few months and is actually better than it was in late 2014 and early 2015. Currently, 49% of voters approve and 46% disapprove of the job Obama has been doing as president.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from July 14 to 16, 2016 with 805 registered voters in the United States. The results in this release have a margin of error of + 3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.