That’s the takeaway of a new poll by the Pew Research Center, which found more Americans — both white and black — now say racism is a “big problem” in the US. In August 2017, 58 percent of US adults said racism is a big problem, up from 41 percent in September 1995 and 50 percent in July 2015. Just between 2011 and 2017, the chances of Americans saying racism is a “big problem” more than doubled.
The poll was conducted from August 15 to 21, reaching nearly 1,900 US adults.
There is a difference by party affiliation, with Democrats much more likely to say racism is a big problem than they were a few years back and Republicans actually less likely to say the same. But the trends are actually fairly similar based on race, with a majority of white Americans now saying racism is a big problem.
One explanation is that, primed particularly by President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoricand the Black Lives Matter movement, Democrats became more aware of racism while Republicans became more dismissive of accusations of racism.
It’s also possible that Trump and Black Lives Matter primed the political parties in another way: They helped sort people into different parties based on their views on race. So in hearing Trump’s racist rhetoric and the message of Black Lives Matter, maybe some former Republicans who are concerned about racism became Democrats, and some former Democrats who are dismissive of racism became Republicans. That wouldn’t necessarily involve people changing their views about race, but it would influence Pew’s polling results when broken down by party.
Or all the above could have happened, along with a host of other issues that a broad survey can’t tease out.
One caveat: The poll was taken a few days after white supremacists descended upon and terrorized Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s likely this event, which drew a lot of media attention nationwide, made people more willing to say racism is a big problem. The question is whether that shift will hold, or if it will fade with time.
The end result, though, is that more Americans are seemingly concerned about racism now than they have been in at least 22 years.