Perceptions of Black and White Americans Continue to Diverge Widely on Issues of Race Relations in the U.S.

by Jack Ludwig

About two-thirds of blacks say that blacks in their community are treated less fairly than whites are in dealings with police

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Recent surveys in The Gallup Poll Social Audit series, "Black/White Relations in the U.S.," show that black Americans continue to hold much less positive views than do whites on a variety of questions about how fairly blacks are treated in their local communities, and that the divergence between black and white perceptions on these issues has been increasing rather than decreasing. The divergence of views is particularly high in terms of dealings with police, and the latest survey shows that blacks have a significantly less favorable view of their local police than do whites.

Blacks Much Less Likely to Say That Blacks Are Treated the Same Way That Whites Are in Their Local Communities
The most recent annual survey in The Gallup Poll Social Audit series, conducted in the late fall of 1999, shows a gap of 38 percentage points between black and white perceptions of whether blacks are treated the same way that whites are in their local communities. While nearly three-quarters of whites say that blacks are treated the same way that whites are, only 36% of blacks feel that this is the case in their own community. This represents a significant decline for blacks: as recently as 1997, when Gallup's first survey in this series was conducted, 49% felt that blacks were treated the same way that whites were, and the gap between blacks' and whites' views stood at 27 percentage points.

Regarding opportunities for blacks in their local communities, there are large and persistent gaps between the perceptions of blacks and whites. Blacks and whites differ substantially about the opportunities for blacks to

  • Get any kind of a job for which they are qualified (79% of whites say blacks have as good a chance as whites, compared to 40% of blacks)
  • Get any housing they can afford (83% of whites say blacks have as good a chance as whites, compared to 53% of blacks)
  • Have their children get a good education (86% of whites say blacks have as good a chance as whites, compared to 56% of blacks)
Gaps Also Exist in the Perceptions of How Blacks Are Treated in Six Specific Situations
When asked for their impressions of whether blacks in their local community were treated less fairly than whites in six specific situations, whites perceive significantly less unfair treatment. Blacks' and whites' answers differed by between 13 and 37 percentage points.
Blacks Are Treated Less Fairly Than Whites
In Six Situations - 1999
% Saying Blacks Are Treated Less Fairly Than Whites in Each of Six Situations
  Blacks White Gap
  % % %
On the job or at work 47 10 37
On public transportation 19 6 13
In neighborhood shops 35 13 22
In stores downtown or in malls 46 15 31
In restaurants, bars, theaters 39 11 28
By police 64 30 34

Among both blacks and whites, dealings with the police are the most frequently cited situations for unfair treatment of blacks. In fact, whites are at least twice as likely to perceive unfair treatment in this situation as in any of the other situations probed, but a 34-point gap nevertheless exists between the views of black and white Americans: 64% of blacks say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites in their local community by police, while only 30% of whites agree.

In what might be considered a wake-up call for employers, the largest gap (37 points) exists in perceptions of blacks' treatment on the job or at work, with nearly half of all blacks (47%) asserting their view that blacks are treated less fairly in this setting.

Blacks Most Likely to Have Experienced Discrimination in Stores
In addition to these general perceptions, blacks were also asked about their own personal experience with perceived discrimination within the last 30 days, across a series of five different situations.

Blacks Treated Unfairly Within Last 30 Days
In Five Situations Because They Were Black - 1999
% of Blacks Saying They Had Been Treated Unfairly in Last 30 Days in Each of Five Situations Because They Were Black

  Blacks
  %
In a store where you were shopping 27
At your place of work 19
In a restaurant, bar, theater, or other entertainment place 19
While using public transportation 7
In dealings with police, such as traffic incidents 20

With the exception of public transportation, with which many respondents do not have direct experience, a substantial minority of black respondents claim to have been treated unfairly in the past month alone.

Young people -- and young males in particular -- are especially likely to cite such instances of racial bias. For example, 41% of black males 18-34 years of age say they have been treated unfairly in the past month in a store where they were shopping, and 34% of this same group claims to have had such an experience in dealings with the police, such as traffic incidents.

Global Perceptions of Black and White Relations
When asked whether relations between blacks and whites in this country have improved, remained the same, or gotten worse, 28% of whites and 36% of blacks say they have improved. This gap between black and white opinions is smaller than it typically is for questions focusing on local communities, and also, unlike the "local communities" questions, blacks' views are more positive than whites'.

A majority of blacks and whites appear pessimistic about the future of race relations in the U.S. In response to a question asking whether relations between blacks and whites will always be a problem for the United States, or whether a solution will eventually be worked out, 51% of whites and 59% of blacks say that race relations will always be a problem. Not only are blacks' answers to this question more negative than those of whites but also, as Gallup has reported since we began asking this question of robust samples of blacks in 1997, the most advantaged blacks (those with the highest household incomes and the greater amounts of formal education) hold the most pessimistic opinions.

Majority of Blacks Have Favorable Opinions of Local and State Police, Although Still Much Less Positive Than Attitudes of Whites
Fifty-eight percent of blacks say that they have a favorable opinion of their local police, and 64% have a favorable opinion of state police in their local area. While these numbers constitute a majority, they are significantly lower than the 85% and 87% of whites who have a favorable view of their local police and state police, respectively.

Survey Methods
The 1999 results reported here are based on 2,006 telephone interviews conducted September 24 -November 16, 1999, with a randomly selected sample of adults in the continental United States. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error for percentages is not greater than ±4 percentage points. The parallel margins of sampling error are ±4 percentage points for the sample of 934 white respondents, and ±5 percentage points for the sample of 1,001 black respondents. 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.

Now, let's talk about your community. In your opinion, how well do you think blacks are treated in your community -- the same as whites are, not very well, or badly?

  Same as Whites Not Very Well Badly No Opinion Sample Size
  % % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 69 23 3 5 2,006
98 Aug 13-Oct 26 71 20 3 6 2,004
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 72 18 3 7 3,036
90 Jun 7-10 63 21 3 13 1,233
87 Jan 16-19 61 24 4 12 1,562
80 Dec 5-8 63 20 5 13 1,549
80 May 30-
Jun 2
65 19 4 11 1,597
78 Jul 7-10 65 18 4 13 1,555
68 May 2-7 70 17 3 10 1,507
67 Jul 13-18 72 15 2 11 1,518
67 Jun 22-27 73 18 2 7 1,549
65 Apr 2-7 65 18 2 15 1,531
64 Feb 28-
Mar 5
52 24 5 18 1,662
63 Jul 18-23 61 23 3 13 1,573
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-
Nov 16
36 49 9 6 1,001
98 Aug 13-Oct 26 43 43 7 7 996
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 49 38 7 6 1,269
90 Jun 7-10 37 43 14 6 96
87 Jan 16-19 44 44 8 4 150
80 Dec 5-8 35 41 16 8 149
80 May 30-
Jun 2
44 31 14 10 190
78 Jul 7-10 26 51 12 11 204
68 May 2-7 26 51 13 10 108
67 Jul 13-18 44 34 9 12 99
67 Jun 22-27 41 49 9 1 n/a
65 Apr 2-7 25 52 10 13 126
64 Feb 28-
Mar 5
19 57 18 6 181
63 Jul 18-23 23 57 7 13 177
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-
Nov 16
74 20 3 3 934
98 Aug 13-Oct 26 76 16 3 5 942
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 76 15 2 7 1,680
90 Jun 7-10 66 18 2 14 1,062
87 Jan 16-19 64 21 3 12 1,385
80 Dec 5-8 67 17 3 13 1,381
80 May 30-
Jun 2
68 17 3 12 1,393
78 Jul 7-10 71 13 3 13 1,336
68 May 2-7 73 14 3 9 1,392
67 Jul 13-18 74 14 1 11 1,402
67 Jun 22-27 76 15 1 8 n/a
65 Apr 2-7 69 15 2 15 1,531
64 Feb 28-
Mar 5
57 20 3 21 1,478
63 Jul 18-23 62 17 3 19 1,388

In general, do you think that blacks have as good a chance as white people in your community to get any kind of job for which they are qualified, or don't you think they have as good a chance?

  Have Chance Don't Have Chance DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 74 24 2 2,006
98 Aug 13-Oct 26 77 21 2 2,004
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 75 23 2 3,036
95 Oct 19-22 71 25 4 1,229
95 Mar 17-19 64 32 4 1,220
93 Aug 23-25 65 31 4 1,065
91 Jun 13-16 68 26 6 990
90 Jun 7-10 69 23 8 1,233
89 Dec 7-10 65 28 7 1,235
78 Jul 7-10 67 24 9 1,555
63 Jun 21-26 39 48 13 1,606
63 March 43 Not avail. Not avail. Not avail.
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 40 57 3 1,001
98 Aug 13-Oct 26 45 52 3 996
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 46 51 3 1,269
95 Oct 19-22 52 45 3 321
95 Mar 17-19 36 62 2 324
93 Aug 23-25 30 66 4 307
91 Jun 13-16 40 58 2 303
90 Jun 7-10 43 54 3 96
89 Dec 7-10 43 54 3 102
78 Jul 7-10 35 57 8 204
63 Jun 21-26 23 74 3 244
63 March 24 Not avail. Not avail. Not avail.
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 79 19 2 934
98 Aug 13-Oct 26 82 17 1 942
97 Jan 4-Feb 28 79 18 3 1,680
95 Oct 19-22 75 21 4 833
95 Mar 17-19 68 27 5 837
93 Aug 23-25 70 27 3 725
91 Jun 13-16 70 23 7 650
90 Jun 7-10 73 20 7 1,062
89 Dec 7-10 68 25 7 1,054
78 Jul 7-10 73 19 9 1,336
63 Jun 21-26 41 44 14 1,348
63 March 46 Not avail. Not avail. Not avail.

In general, do you think that black children have as good a chance as white children in your community to get a good education, or don't you think they have as good a chance?

  Have Chance Don't Have Chance DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 82 15 3 2,006
97 May 30-
Jun 1
76 21 3 935
95 Oct 19-22 82 14 4 1,229
91 Jun 13-16 81 15 4 990
90 Jun 7-10 83 11 6 1,233
89 Dec 7-10 80 15 5 1,235
*62 Aug 23-28 83 7 10 1,499
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-
Nov 16
56 39 5 1,001
97 May 30-
Jun 1
63 35 2 114
95 Oct 19-22 64 33 3 321
91 Jun 13-16 56 38 6 303
90 Jun 7-10 68 29 3 96
89 Dec 7-10 61 33 6 102
*62 Aug 23-28 53 41 6 107
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 86 12 2 934
97 May 30-
Jun 1
79 18 3 746
95 Oct 19-22 85 11 4 833
91 Jun 13-16 83 13 4 650
90 Jun 7-10 85 9 6 1,062
89 Dec 7-10 82 13 5 1,054
*62 Aug 23-28 85 4 10 1,390

*Question Wording: Negro children

Again, in general, do you think that blacks have as good a chance as white people in your community to get any housing they can afford, or don't you think they have as good a chance?

  Have Chance Don't Have Chance DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 79 18 3 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
82 16 2 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
83 13 4 3,036
91 Jun 13-16 72 23 5 990
90 Jun 7-10 72 19 9 1,233
89 Dec 7-10 68 26 6 1,235
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 53 45 2 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
54 43 3 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
58 40 2 1,269
91 Jun 13-16 55 42 3 303
90 Jun 7-10 47 46 7 96
89 Dec 7-10 51 45 5 102
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-
Nov 16
83 15 2 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
86 12 2 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
86 10 4 1,680
91 Jun 13-16 74 21 5 650
90 Jun 7-10 75 16 9 1,062
89 Dec 7-10 71 23 6 1,054

Just your impression, are blacks in your community treated less fairly than whites in the following situations? How about (READ AND ROTATE a-f)?

a. On the job or at work

  Yes, treated less fairly No, treated same/better DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 15 79 6 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
13 79 8 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
18 70 12 3,036
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 47 47 6 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
42 50 8 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
45 46 9 1,269
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 10 84 6 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
9 83 8 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
14 74 12 1,680

b.On public transportation

  Yes, treated less fairly No, treated same/better DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 8 75 17 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
7 77 16 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
14 65 21 3,036
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 19 65 16 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
15 72 13 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
25 57 18 1,269
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 6 76 18 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
5 78 17 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
12 67 21 1,680

c. In neighborhood shops

  Yes, treated less fairly No, treated same/better DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 16 81 3 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
14 83 3 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
21 74 5 3,036
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 35 60 5 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
31 64 5 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
42 53 5 1,269
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 13 84 3 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
11 86 3 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
18 76 6 1,680

d. In stores downtown or in the shopping mall

  Yes, treated less fairly No, treated same/better DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 19 77 4 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
19 77 4 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
22 72 6 3,036
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 46 49 5 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
41 54 5 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
46 49 5 1,269
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 15 81 4 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
16 81 3 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
19 76 5 1,680

e. In restaurants, bars, theaters, or other entertainment places

  Yes, treated less fairly No, treated same/better DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 14 81 5 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
13 83 4 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
20 75 5 3,036
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 39 56 5 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
34 60 6 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
42 52 6 1,269
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 11 85 4 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
10 86 4 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
16 79 5 1,680

f. In dealings with the police, such as traffic incidents

  Yes, treated less fairly No, treated same/better DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
Total
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 35 54 11 2,006
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
33 57 10 2,004
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
34 51 15 3,036
 
Blacks
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 64 31 5 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
55 38 7 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
60 33 7 1,269
 
Whites
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 30 59 11 934
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
29 61 10 942
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
30 54 16 1,680

Can you think of any occasion in the last thirty days when you felt you were treated unfairly in the following places because you were black? How about (READ AND ROTATE a-e)? (black respondents only)

a. In a store where you were shopping

  Yes, treated unfairly No DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 27 70 3 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
26 72 2 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
30 70 - 1,269

b. At your place of work

  Yes, treated unfairly No DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 19 63 18 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
18 63 19 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
21 77 2 1,269

c. In a restaurant, bar, theater, or other entertainment place

  Yes, treated unfairly No DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 19 75 6 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
16 76 8 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
21 76 3 1,269

d. While using public transportation

  Yes, treated unfairly No DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 7 68 25 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
6 68 26 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
6 81 13 1,269

e. In dealings with the police, such as traffic incidents

  Yes, treated unfairly No DK/Refused Sample Size
  % % %  
99 Sep 24-Nov 16 20 66 14 1,001
98 Aug 13-
Oct 26
16 65 19 996
97 Jan 4-
Feb 28
15 79 6 1,269
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