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How Equal Is American Opportunity? Survey Shows Attitudes Vary By Race

September 21, 2015

A new survey shows a majority of Americans, regardless of race, agree that race relations have worsened nationally in the past year — but on questions of equality, opinions were split between white and African-American respondents.

According to a PBS Newshour/Marist Poll, a racial divide still persists on how Americans view a variety of issues, including whether blacks and whites have equal opportunities of getting hired for a job, receiving a quality education and earning equal pay for equal work.

The survey also revealed a split in how whites and African-Americans view the Black Lives Matter movement and on the Confederate flag.

“I think what we were looking at was to get a sense of Americans today and their view on race relations, and see areas of similarity, areas of disagreement,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “And to get a handle on what is obviously something that brings forth a lot of emotion, particularly in the context of recent shootings and issues of police community behavior.”

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said race relations in the United States have deteriorated in the past year. When broken down by race, a majority of African-Americans (56 percent) and whites (60 percent) agree with this statement.

A majority of blacks and whites (60 percent and 74 percent respectively) also said local race relations have not changed. But perceptions of whether that lack of change should be viewed as a good or bad thing varied depending on the race of the respondent.

Whites who thought things hadn’t changed were likely — at a rate of more than 2 to 1 — to think the status quo was good. African-Americans, by nearly the same ratio, tended to view that non-change negatively.

Some of the survey’s widest disparities between black and white respondents were on economic and social justice issues.

For example, equal opportunity for getting hired for a job: While 52 percent of whites said they feel the opportunity to get a job was equal among whites and blacks, more than two-thirds of African-American respondents (76 percent) said it was not equal.

And when it comes to equal justice under the law, white Americans were almost evenly split. Exactly half of whites said African-Americans and Caucasians had the opportunity for equal justice under the law, while 46 percent disagreed. Among African-Americans, only 11 percent said the opportunity for equal justice is shared by blacks and whites, while 87 percent said it was not.

According to the PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, the Black Lives Matter movement is perceived by more than 8 in 10 African-Americans (82 percent) as a mainly nonviolent movement. Additionally, 65 percent of blacks say the movement focuses attention on real issues of discrimination.

The poll found 43 percent of white respondents agree it is a mainly nonviolent civil rights movement, but 41 percent say it does advocate some level of violence. And nearly two-thirds of white respondents (59 percent) say Black Lives Matter distracts attention from racial discrimination.

There’s an unsurprising split in opinion over the Confederate flag; a majority of whites see it as a symbol of Southern pride, while most African-Americans see it as a symbol of racism.

There appears to be some agreement in the survey, particularly on the topic of the opportunity for fair media portrayal among African-Americans and whites. By wide margins, both African-Americans (14 percent yes to 84 percent no) and whites (27 percent yes to 67 percent no) say the media does not provide a fair portrayal of the races equally.

The findings will be discussed during a Monday night PBS broadcast of America After Charleston with Gwen Ifill.

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