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New Poll: Some Americans Express Troubling Racial Attitudes Even as Majority Oppose White Supremacists

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center for Politics finds that while there is relatively little national endorsement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, there are troubling levels of support for certain racially-charged ideas and attitudes frequently expressed by extremist groups. The survey also found backing for keeping Confederate monuments in place, the removal of which has become a hot-button issue in communities across the country.

As is often the case, these survey results can be interpreted in two quite different ways. On the one hand, despite the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere, few people surveyed expressed direct support for hate groups. But on the other hand, it will be disturbing to many that a not insubstantial proportion of those polled demonstrated neutrality and indifference or, worse, expressed support for antiquated views on race.

The large-sample poll (5,360 respondents for most questions) was conducted from Aug. 21 to Sept. 5 in the aftermath of a neo-Nazi rally and counter-protest on the Grounds of the University of Virginia and in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11-12.

Among the questions, respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with statements asking whether white people and/or racial minorities in the United States are “under attack.” Notably, 14% of all respondents both 1) agreed that white people are under attack and 2) disagreed with the statement that nonwhites are under attack.

Nearly one-third of respondents (31%) strongly or somewhat agreed that the country needs to “protect and preserve its White European heritage.” Another third (34%) strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement, and 29% neither agreed nor disagreed.

Fifty years after the United States Supreme Court struck down bans on mixed-race marriage in Loving v. Virginia, about one-sixth of respondents (16%) agreed with the statement that “marriage should only be allowed between two people of the same race” and an additional 14% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement, while 4% said they didn’t know. In total, about a third failed to express tolerance of interracial marriage. Among whites, 17% agreed that marriage should be restricted to the same race, with 15% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This was slightly higher than nonwhites (15% agreed, 12% neither agreed nor disagreed).

In separate questions, each asking whether/to the extent respondent supported various ideologies:

  • 6% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat supported the alt-right.
  • 8% expressed support for white nationalism.
  • 4% expressed support for neo-Nazism.

For both the alt-right and white nationalism questions, the poll found that about one-fifth of respondents said they neither supported nor opposed those groups or movements, perhaps revealing some potential additional support.

“Let’s remember, there are nearly 250 million adults in the United States, so even small percentages likely represent the beliefs of many millions of Americans,” said Center Director Larry J. Sabato.

On Confederate monuments, respondents were given a choice between removing Confederate monuments from all public spaces or keeping all of them in place.

  • Three-fifths (57%) said that Confederate monuments should remain in public spaces, while a quarter (26%) said they should be removed.
  • Among African Americans, 54% said all monuments should be removed versus 25% who were inclined to keep all monuments where they are. Whites strongly differed, with two-thirds (67%) saying they should remain in place and just 19% favoring removal.
  • A plurality of Democrats favored removing all monuments (46%) versus 38% for leaving them in place.
  • Republicans (by 81%-10%) and Independents (by 62%-18%) overwhelmingly preferred keeping the monuments in place.
  • Among those people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 51% favored keeping the monuments in place versus 34% for removing them.

Some results indicated broad acceptance of racial equality:

  • Seven in 10 respondents (70%) strongly agreed that people of different races should be “free to live wherever they choose” and that “all races are equal” (70%), with only 2% and 4% of respondents strongly disagreeing, respectively.
  • A large percentage (89%) agreed that all races should be treated equally, even as 11% answered otherwise: 3% disagreed, 5% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 3% said they didn’t know.

But other findings presented conflicting opinions about whether and which racial groups may be “under attack” in the United States.

  • 39% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that “white people are currently under attack in this country,” while 38% disagreed. Strong disagreement (28%) ranked higher than strong agreement (19%). Among whites, 29% disagreed with this statement, whereas 54% of nonwhites disagreed. Among partisans, 21% of Democrats agreed with the statement to some extent compared to 63% of Republicans. Conversely, 59% of Democrats disagreed (47% strongly) while just 17% of Republicans disagreed. About the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans neither agreed nor disagreed (17% for the former, 18% for the latter).
  • 55% strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that “racial minorities are currently under attack in this country,” while 22% strongly or somewhat disagreed. Just 13% of racial minorities disagreed with the statement while 27% of whites disagreed.

Lastly, the poll found mixed views on Black Lives Matter and a relative unfamiliarity with Antifa compared to other movements and organizations that the survey asked about:

  • Roughly one-third of respondents (32%) said they supported Black Lives Matter, and another 24% indicated a middle position of neither supporting nor opposing. Among African Americans, 62% voiced support for the group, while 26% of whites and 33% of Hispanics also did.
  • A plurality of respondents were against BLM, however, with 37% somewhat or strongly opposing the organization. The strongest core of opposition to the group came from whites, with 43% opposing BLM. There was also an obvious partisan difference in support or opposition to the organization: 52% of Democrats supported BLM and 62% of Republicans opposed it.
  • 8% said they strongly or somewhat support Antifa versus 33% strongly opposing Antifa and another 6% somewhat opposing (39% total opposing). There is more uncertainty about Antifa than the alt-right, which could suggest a lack of familiarity with the groups themselves, or with the groups’ ideals: 32% answered “don’t know” when asked about their support or opposition to Antifa, versus 23% who said the same when asked about the alt-right.

A fundamental question that this poll sought to help clarify is whether there is a sizable portion of the American public that could be receptive to the types of messages being disseminated by groups associated with the alt-right and/or white supremacy. When respondents were asked if they supported the alt-right, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis, only a small percentage said they did. But for both the alt-right and white nationalism, about one-fifth of respondents said they neither supported nor opposed those groups or movements.

Within this poll a sizable number of respondents selected the “neither agree nor disagree” option. Given the racially-charged and controversial nature of some of the statements polled, these “middling” answers seemed remarkable, particularly given the fact that a “Don’t know” option was also presented and was available if, for example, one wished to express uncertainty or a lack of knowledge. Ipsos pollster Julia Clark examined the makeup of the “neither agree nor disagree” respondents from this survey. While the profile of these respondents is not uniform, on some of the more notable questions she discovered a general trend showing that these respondents were more likely to have views that leaned more toward intolerance than away from it.

“The ‘Neither agree nor disagree’ respondents, for example, are far less likely to condemn statements against interracial marriage and in favor of preserving white heritage,” said Clark. “In addition, the ‘Neither/Nors’ are notably less likely than other respondents to feel all races should be treated equally or that minorities are under attack. In both cases, and others, this makes their viewpoints more congruous with extremist, anti-equality views than more progressive views.”

The full results and methodology are available here and the crosstabs are available here.