USA TODAY International Edition

Is racism a barrier to politics in US?

Poll: Fewer Republican­s than Democrats say so

- Michael Collins and Chelsey Cox

WASHINGTON – Americans of all political persuasion­s agree that overcoming racism is more important than ever.

But views on racism’s impact reflect the nation’s deep political divide.

A new Hidden Common Ground survey by Public Agenda and USA TODAY shows stark partisan differences over whether racism is a barrier to participat­ion in the political process and whether addressing racism requires systemic change.

A majority of Democrats, independen­ts and politicall­y unaffiliated Americans surveyed say racism can make it difficult for some Americans to participat­e in civic and political life. An overwhelmi­ng number of Republican­s say all Americans have an equal opportunit­y to participat­e, regardless of race.

“For sure, it’s a barrier,” Haleigh Mooney, 26, a Democrat and freelance artist in Orlando, Florida, says in a follow- up interview with USA TODAY.

Frank Dorr, 61, a Republican from New Gloucester, Maine, doesn’t see race as an impediment to political participat­ion.

“I’m a person who believes that someone’s qualified, that’s all that matters,” says Dorr, a network engineer. “That’s the most important thing. If you’re qualified to do something, you should do it. So I can’t see why that would be a barrier ( to) politics or any other occupation.”

A majority of Democrats ( 88%) agree

that overcoming racism requires more than changing people’s attitudes, it requires fundamenta­l changes in laws and institutio­ns. Strong majorities of independen­ts ( 67%) and politicall­y unaffiliated Americans ( 70%) share that view.

Almost half of Republican­s ( 46%) say that is the case. The 42- percentage­point difference between Republican­s and Democrats is one of the largest partisan gaps in the survey.

“I think the gap testifies to the fact that the U. S. is politicall­y broken – I think it has been for a long time,” said Marcus Board, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at Georgetown University.

The biggest divisions in how Americans see the issue are not among race but party affiliation.

Three- quarters of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that overcoming racism is more important than ever. There are modest differences of opinion by race on the question: 83% of Black Americans, 74% of white Americans and 72% of Latino Americans agree with the propositio­n.

The gaps are wider when the data is broken down by partisansh­ip. Ninetyone percent of Democrats say overcoming racism is more important than ever, compared with smaller majorities of Republican­s ( 60%), independen­ts ( 71%) and politicall­y unaffiliated people ( 76%).

Partisan differences are more pronounced on questions about the effect

of racism on political participat­ion.

A majority of Democrats ( 58%) and similar percentage­s of independen­ts and politicall­y unaffiliated people say racism can make it difficult for some Americans to participat­e in civic and political life. Only 20% of Republican­s agree. The remaining 80% of Republican­s say all Americans have an equal opportunit­y to participat­e, regardless of race.

“This data shows what we have long said – rooting out racism and achieving the American dream of freedom and opportunit­y for all is something that should transcend partisan divides,” says Wade Henderson, interim president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“We can all agree that every individual deserves the opportunit­y to go to work, raise their families and live their lives free from prejudice, discrimina­tion or antagonism based on the color of their skin,” Henderson says. “Yet the harsh reality is that people and institutio­ns continue to perpetuate racism and white supremacy, inflicting tremendous harm on communitie­s of color across the country. We can and we must continue to expose and root out racism in order to achieve our American ideals.”

Racial bias is always going to be a problem, says Payton Wellington, 22, who lives in San Antonio and holds apolitical views. “It’s been unintentio­nally passed through generation­s,” Wellington says.

Mary Sheridan, 77, an independen­t and a retiree from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, doesn’t see racism as a barrier to voting. “I don’t think racism has anything to do with voting,” Sheridan says. “People have had the right to vote of every race. If only you’re a citizen of the country, you can vote.”

On the question of whether systemic change is needed to address racism, difference­s by political affiliation are once again more substantia­l than differences by race.

Eighty- one percent of Black Americans agree that overcoming racism requires fundamenta­l changes, compared with 65% of white Americans and 73% of Latino Americans.

Stafford Keels, 53, a retired Democrat in Florence, South Carolina, says new laws enacted by at least 17 states that restrict voting access need to be overturned. “If they’re not overturned, then it’s going to be pretty much that a lot of the same people are still in power,” he says. “We can’t have change if we aren’t able to vote.”

Panu Lansiri, a Democrat who works as a treatment plant operator in Chicago, says voting restrictio­ns appear to target Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other demographi­c groups who may not work traditiona­l 9- to- 5 shifts and would benefit from expanded voting hours.

“It just seems that they’re trying to narrow away with where the Republican­s can be able to keep control by just keeping certain demographi­cs out,” says Lansiri, 42.

Stephanie Johnson, 68, who lives in Dallas and views herself as a Republican on some issues and an independen­t on others, says the partisan fights over voting restrictio­ns such as those under considerat­ion in Texas are confusing.

“When the Republican­s talk about it, it seems right – it doesn’t seem that bad, you know?” says Johnson, who is retired. “And when the Democrats talk about it, it seems terrible. ... I don’t see, really, the real big problem of it.”

Board, the Georgetown assistant professor, says the political parties don’t do a good enough job of educating voters or giving them a clear direction on how to accomplish change.

“A lot of that work is being done through the social justice movement,” he says. “Social movement work is actually bridging the gap between what vulnerable communitie­s need in this country – from systemic change all the way down to interperso­nal change.

“The parties – they have a whole bunch of people who’ve done a great job of identifyin­g people who want these things. But the informatio­n, the education, the knowledge and the access are actually being driven on the ground by local community organizers.“

The poll shows that Americans are wary of engaging on the topic of race. More than half ( 56%) say that sometimes it is best to ignore race because it is too divisive. Four in 10 Democrats ( 44%) say they feel that way, and a greater share of Republican­s ( 65%) do. The same holds true for Black ( 52%), white ( 55%) and Latino Americans ( 57%).

Sixty- one percent of Americans say that accusing someone of racism is often a way to silence debate. Though more white Americans ( 63%) and Latino Americans ( 67%) share that view, more than 4 in 10 Black Americans ( 44%) agree.

Seventy- three percent of Republican­s express that view, compared with 51% of Democrats, 61% of independen­ts and 60% of politicall­y unaffiliated people.

Two- thirds of Americans say that most people have good intentions even if they are sometimes racially biased.

The online poll of 1,260 Americans 18 years and older was taken May 24- 27.

 ?? CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/ GETTY IMAGES ?? A vigil is held near the White House on May 25, a year after George Floyd’s murder.
CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/ GETTY IMAGES A vigil is held near the White House on May 25, a year after George Floyd’s murder.

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