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Americans' Views of Black-White Relations Deteriorate

Americans' Views of Black-White Relations Deteriorate

Story Highlights

  • 47% say black-white relations are good, down from 70%
  • Blacks' and whites' views also much more negative
  • 58% of Americans still optimistic about future relations

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Americans rate black-white relations much more negatively today than they have at any point in the past 15 years. Currently, 47% say relations between blacks and whites are "very good" or "somewhat good," a steep decline from 70% in 2013. Whites' positive ratings of black-white relations since 2013 have nose-dived by 27 percentage points, from 72% to 45%, while blacks show a smaller but still sizable drop of 15 points, from 66% to 51%.

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The results are based on Gallup's Minority Rights and Relations poll, which interviewed more than 2,000 Americans, including more than 800 non-Hispanic whites and more than 800 non-Hispanic blacks from June 15 through July 10.

Americans have generally been quite positive about black-white relations in the 15 years Gallup has asked this question. Prior to this year, between 63% and 72% of Americans rated relations between blacks and whites as very good or somewhat good.

Whites and blacks are generally in accord on the state of relations, with 45% of whites and 51% of blacks rating them as good. Whites and blacks have generally had similar and quite positive views over the past 15 years, with a notable gap only in 2007, a year in which blacks' ratings on a variety of measures were more negative.

The most likely explanation for the deterioration in Americans' perceptions of the health of black-white relations since 2013 are the multiple widely reported incidents in which black citizens were killed by the actions of white police officers. Several of those incidents sparked protests or riots.

Notably, as Americans' perceptions of black-white relations have become sharply more negative, their ratings of relations among other racial and ethnic groups are unchanged from 2013, the last time Gallup asked the question.

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As a result, Americans are now the most negative in their evaluations of black-white relations since Gallup began tracking this measure. In 2013, they were the least positive about black-Hispanic relations. Historically, Americans have believed white-Asian relations to be the most positive.

Americans Remain Optimistic About Black-White Relations in the Future

Even as Americans are much more negative about the state of black-white relations today than they were two years ago, they remain more optimistic than pessimistic about the long-term outlook for the two groups getting along. In fact, the 58% who say a "solution will eventually be worked out" to improve black-white relations is unchanged from 2013. Forty-one percent remain pessimistic about the future, saying relations between blacks and whites "will always be a problem."

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Americans were more optimistic than pessimistic about the future of race relations the first time the question was asked, by NORC, in 1963. Gallup updated the question several times in the 1990s, a decade marked by the Los Angeles race riots and racially charged court cases, including the Rodney King beating trial and the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Throughout that decade, Americans were more likely to believe that black-white relations would always be a problem than to believe a solution would be worked out. That included an October 1995 Gallup poll conducted shortly after Simpson was acquitted on criminal charges, when a record 68% of Americans said black-white relations would always be a problem.

More recently, Americans have been more optimistic than pessimistic that a solution to black-white tensions would eventually be worked out. This includes a record 67% in November 2008 just after Barack Obama became the first black person to be elected president.

Since 1999, blacks have consistently been more skeptical than whites that a solution to black-white relations will eventually be worked out. Currently, 43% of blacks and 59% of whites predict this will occur. Whites' views have not changed in the past two years, while blacks are slightly less likely now (43%) than in 2013 (48%) to believe a solution to black-white problems will eventually be found.

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Implications

Recent events have likely caused Americans to dramatically re-evaluate their views of the status of black-white relations in the U.S. Americans are much less likely now than two years ago to say relations between blacks and whites are good. At the same time, there has been no change in their generally positive views of relations between blacks and other racial or ethnic groups, and between whites and other racial or ethnic groups. Also, blacks show little change in their overall life satisfaction or reports of being personally treated unfairly because of their race, suggesting that while the public as a whole may be more dissatisfied with the treatment of blacks and see black-white relations are deteriorating, blacks are not experiencing much of a change in their daily life experiences.

Despite their more negative views of the state of black and white relations in the U.S. today, Americans' mostly positive views of the future of black-white relations are unshaken. A majority remains more optimistic than pessimistic that one day black-white relations will no longer be problematic, though whites are more likely to believe this than blacks.

Certainly, what Americans read, hear and see in the media affects their views, and the frequent reports of trouble between black citizens and white law enforcement over the past year have likely caused Americans -- black and white -- to downgrade their views of relations.

A key question is how long the downturn in perceptions of current black-white relations will persist. Not much will change if there continue to be incidents in which white police officers' actions result in serious harm or death to blacks. But if those incidents stop occurring, they will no longer be top-of-mind for most Americans when asked to assess the state of black-white relations. Should that occur, and absent of any other prominent examples of problematic incidents between blacks and whites, Americans' views of relations between the two groups may once again become positive.

Historical data on these questions are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-July 10, 2015, with a random sample of 2,296 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. All respondents had been previously interviewed in the Gallup Daily tracking survey and agreed to be re-contacted by Gallup. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 857 non-Hispanic whites, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 802 non-Hispanic blacks, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 508 Hispanics, the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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