Religion and Social Trends

Do Sparks Fly When Blacks and Whites Are Neighbors?

Those in racially integrated areas have more negative views on how blacks and whites really feel

Does familiarity breed harmony or conflict when it comes to racial and ethnic relations in the United States? More to the point, does living in a well-integrated area -- a place where at least one other race or ethnic group besides one's own is represented in large numbers -- lead to more positive or more negative perceptions of race and ethnic relations?

Results from Gallup's 2005 Minority Relations poll* suggest that the racial and ethnic makeup of one's community has little bearing on Americans' overall perceptions of relations between whites and blacks, between whites and Hispanics, or between Hispanics and blacks. For instance, blacks living in heavily Hispanic areas are no different from blacks living among few Hispanics in their perceptions of how well blacks and Hispanics get along. The same can be said of whites' and blacks' perceptions of white-black relations.

On the other hand, the influence of integration is evident in whites' and blacks' perceptions of how members of the two races view each other on a more personal level. With a pair of questions asking respondents to estimate the how many whites and blacks dislike people of the other race, Gallup finds that those living in more racially integrated environments appear to have more negative views about how blacks and whites really feel toward each other.

Ratings of Race Relations Not Affected by Community Makeup

Gallup asked respondents: Would you say relations between whites and blacks [in the United States] are very good, somewhat good, somewhat bad, or very bad?

The encouraging result is that a majority of blacks and whites -- regardless of the degree to which they live in integrated communities -- positively view overall relations between whites and blacks.

Sixty-two percent of blacks living in areas populated by "many whites" say that relations between whites and blacks are good in the United States these days; only 35% consider them bad. Roughly three-fourths of blacks living among "some whites" and 61% of those living among only a few or no whites say relations are good.

Blacks' Views of White-Black Relations

Number of Whites in Area

Many whites

Some whites

Only a few/
no whites

Overall Rating

Good

62%

74

61

Bad

35%

26

38

Similarly, whites' perceptions of white-black relations do not vary according to whether whites are living in an area where there are many blacks, some blacks, or only a few or no blacks. Roughly 7 in 10 whites across all these categories positively perceive white-black relations.

Whites' Views of White-Black Relations

Number of Blacks in Area

Many blacks

Some blacks

Only a few/
no blacks

Overall Rating

Good

73%

70

72

Bad

27%

27

26

Community makeup also does not affect whites' views of white-Hispanic relations and blacks' views of black-Hispanic relations.

Whites' Views of White-Hispanic Relations

Number of Hispanics in Area

Many Hispanics

Some Hispanics

Only a few/
no Hispanics

Overall Rating

Good

78%

68

71

Bad

21%

28

26

Blacks' Views of Black-Hispanic Relations

Number of Hispanics in Area

Many Hispanics

Some Hispanics

Only a few/
no Hispanics

Overall Rating

Good

74%

79

80

Bad

17%

19

15

Although the June 6-25 survey includes large oversamples of blacks and Hispanics that allow for statistically reliable analyses of their views, the sample sizes of Hispanics living in areas with less than "many" whites and blacks are too small to be used for this analysis.

Integrated Blacks and Whites Perceive the Most Racial Enmity

The same survey probed Americans' perceptions of racial hostility with this pair of questions:

  • Do you think only a few white people dislike blacks, many white people dislike blacks, or almost all white people dislike blacks?
  • Do you think only a few black people dislike whites, many black people dislike whites, or almost all black people dislike whites?

Whites who live in areas where there are many blacks are more likely to say that "many white people dislike blacks" (44%) than those who live in areas where there are just some (30%) or a only few (31%) blacks. At the same time, the prevalence of blacks in their communities does not affect whites' perceptions of how many blacks dislike whites.

The question for future study is whether whites living in highly integrated areas are simply more aware of white hostility toward blacks (perhaps integrated whites are more vocal about it), or whether there is, in fact, more white hostility toward blacks in these environments.

Whites' Views of White-Black Relations

Number of Blacks in Area

Many blacks

Some blacks

Only a few/
no blacks

How many blacks dislike whites?

Only a few/none

58%

52

58

Many/All

40%

44

39

How many whites dislike blacks?

Only a few/none

55%

69

69

Many/all

44%

30

31

Blacks are also more likely to perceive acrimony between the races when they live in predominantly white areas. However, these blacks perceive a higher rate of black dislike for whites as well as white dislike for blacks.

Among blacks who live in areas populated by many whites, 41% believe that many blacks dislike whites. This is significantly higher than the 26% who live among only some whites. Half of blacks living in well-integrated areas believe that many whites dislike blacks. This is significantly higher than the 39% of blacks who live where there are only a few or no whites.

Blacks' Views of White-Black Relations

Number of Whites in Area

Many whites

Some whites

Only a few/
No whites

How many blacks dislike whites?

Only a few/none

58%

70

63

Many/all

41%

26

35

How many whites dislike blacks?

Only a few/none

48%

52

57

Many/all

50%

43

39

Bottom Line

Americans' overall view of white-black relations is generally rosy, and evidently not informed by personal experiences with integration. That could be because respondents are answering the question in broader terms.

But ask something more specific, like "how many white people dislike blacks?" and respondents can be witnesses to the world around them. This report from the trenches -- from those on the front lines, as it were, of race relations -- is disquieting.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,375 adults, aged 18 years and older, including a main sample of 1,004 national adults and oversamples of blacks and Hispanics. Telephone interviews were conducted from June 6-25, 2004.

For results based on the total sample of 2,264 national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points.

Results based on the subsample of whites include interviews with 807 non-Hispanic white adults and have a maximum margin of sampling error of ±7 percentage points. Results based on the subsample of blacks include interviews with 802 black national adults and have a maximum margin of sampling error of ±5 percentage points. Results based on the subsample of Hispanics include interviews with 511 Hispanic national adults (including 181 conducted in Spanish) and have a maximum margin of sampling error of ±7 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/17503/Sparks-Fly-When-Blacks-Whites-Neighbors.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030