USA TODAY International Edition
Is racism a barrier to politics in US?
Poll: Fewer Republicans than Democrats say so
WASHINGTON – Americans of all political persuasions agree that overcoming racism is more important than ever.
But views on racism’s impact reflect the nation’s deep political divide.
A new Hidden Common Ground survey by Public Agenda and USA TODAY shows stark partisan differences 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 unaffiliated Americans surveyed say racism can make it difficult 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 qualified, that’s all that matters,” says Dorr, a network engineer. “That’s the most important thing. If you’re qualified 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 unaffiliated Americans ( 70%) share that view.
Almost half of Republicans ( 46%) say that is the case. The 42- percentagepoint difference between Republicans and Democrats is one of the largest partisan gaps in the survey.
“I think the gap testifies 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 affiliation.
Three- quarters of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that overcoming racism is more important than ever. There are modest differences 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 unaffiliated people ( 76%).
Partisan differences are more pronounced on questions about the effect
of racism on political participation.
A majority of Democrats ( 58%) and similar percentages of independents and politically unaffiliated people say racism can make it difficult 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 officer 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, inflicting 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 affiliation are once again more substantial than differences 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.
Stafford 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 benefit 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 fights 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 unaffiliated 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.