Americans have more concerns - but some hope - about race relations

January 12, 2018, 4:30 PM GMT+0

51% of Americans think race relations have gotten worse under President Trump

On the eve of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Americans express concern about race relations in the United States. Two out of three in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll say race relations are bad today. That’s higher than the percentage who thought that three years ago.

The perception of poor relations between blacks and whites has increased among both white and black Americans, and is sharply different from the judgment both races gave in January 2014, when majorities of both blacks and whites said relations between the races were good. In all Economist/YouGov Polls on the subject taken between 2009 and 2013, Americans were generally positive about race relations.

The trend towards negative feelings about race began later in 2014, with highly publicized police shootings of African-Americans, and the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has not gotten better. During the last years of Barack Obama’s presidency, half the public (and a majority of whites) said race relations had gotten worse since his presidency began, and half say the same about the impact of Donald Trump’s first year in office. Last year, white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, a march that turned deadly, and exposed a growing racial divide.

Three in four African-Americans believe race relations have gotten worse during the Trump Presidency. So do nearly half of whites. Only one in three approve of the way Donald Trump is handling civil rights; 44% disapprove. Among African-Americans, the President’s approval rating on civil rights is just 16%.

The percentage of Americans who describe racism as a “big problem” has doubled since 2014 to 40%. That includes a third of white Americans (up from 13% in 2014) and 58% of black Americans.

And many don’t see long-term gains from the 1960’s civil right movement which Dr. King led. The percentage who say race relations has improved since the 1960’s has declined dramatically in the last few years. In early 2014, large majorities of both blacks and whites said race relations had gotten better since the 1960’s. That figure has now dropped below 50%. While half of whites say things have improved, less than a third of blacks now agree.

But Americans, black and white, still see Dr. King’s legacy in a positive light, though just two in five think there has been a great deal or quite a bit of progress towards his goal of racial equality. Half the public said that in 2015.

But more than two-thirds believe his work in the 1960’s sped up the progress towards racial equality. And two out of three Americans believe that Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given more than 50 years ago, is still relevant today.

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