Racial Discrimination: How Far Have We Come?

New York , N.Y. – February 13, 2014 – In the midst of Black History Month, it is perhaps an appropriate time to examine some of our nation’s historical racial divides and reflect on changes that we as a country have seen over time. As far back as 1969 and 1972 The Harris Poll measured perceptions among U.S. adults as to whether blacks were discriminated against in a variety of areas of American life. A new Harris Poll revisits the same line of inquiry and finds that, 45 years later, there have been some sizeable changes – along with a disparaging lack of change in some regards.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014.

Perceptions of discrimination declining in some areas…

In many ways, Americans – not only collectively but when looking at blacks and whites individually – are less likely to perceive discrimination against blacks than they were 45 years ago. These drops in perceived discrimination are largely in areas related specifically to opportunity or housing/accommodations, and are encouraging. Top examples include drops (compared to 1969) in the perceptions that blacks are discriminated against…

  • …in getting hotel and motel accommodations (down 19 percentage points among Americans overall, 32 points among African Americans, 20 points among whites);
  • …in getting decent housing (down 16, 21 and 18 points, respectively); and
  • …in getting skilled labor jobs (down 13, 22 and 13 points, respectively).

but rising dramatically in others

However, when turning to broader issues there are areas of troubling growth in perceived discrimination. Most notably, roughly six in ten Americans (59%), including 85% of African Americans and 55% of white Americans, now believe blacks are discriminated against in the way they are treated by police; this represents more than a twofold increase among the general population (up 34 points) and nearly a threefold increase among whites (up 36 points).

While the perception that this type of discrimination exists shows more moderate growth among African Americans (up 9 points), it could be argued that with a starting point of 76% in 1969, there was far less room left for perceptual growth when compared to the general population and whites (which were at 25% and 19%, respectively, in 1969).

  • An additional factor to bear in mind when considering the larger growth in perceived discrimination among white Americans is that most did not believe such discrimination was occurring in 1969, while the majority believe it exists now – a considerable shift in public attitudes which may enable deeper, more honest discussions in the future toward the goal of addressing issues of inequality.

Another area where Americans in general, and African Americans specifically, are more likely to believe discrimination exists is in the way they are treated by the federal government.

  • In 1972 (the first year this particular area of American life was tested), only 13% of Americans, including 41% of blacks and one in ten whites (10%), believed discrimination against blacks existed in this area.
  • Today 23% of Americans believe this to be the case, including six in ten African Americans (60%) and 16% of white Americans (representing 10, 19 and 6 points of growth, respectively).

No news is bad news

It’s an old cliché that no news is good news, but it doesn’t always ring true. In fact perhaps the most compelling evidence of ongoing problems is the shifts not revealed in this series.

In 45 years, Americans’ likelihood to believe that blacks are discriminated against in getting full equality is virtually unchanged (from 47% in 1969 to 45% in 2014); this also holds true among white Americans (43% in 1969, 41% in 2014).

  • While this perception has decreased marginally among African Americans (down 6 points since 1969), perhaps the more important takeaway for this group is that nearly eight in ten (78%, compared to 84% in 1969) believe they are discriminated against in this manner today.

Turning to the way blacks are treated as human beings, there have been only marginal shifts in comparison to 1969 in the perception that they are discriminated against in this area. The perception has risen slightly among Americans overall (up 5 points, from 39% in 1969 to 44%) and whites (up 4 points from 35% in 1969 to 39% in 2014).

  • Though it has lessened slightly among African Americans, it is worth noting that over seven in ten believe this type of discrimination exists today (71%, down from 77% in 1969).

Some improved perceptions among African Americans since 2008

While the primary focus of the study was to see how far we have – or haven’t, as the case may be – come since 1969, some changes are notable in comparison to more recent history as well. In comparison December of 2008, just after President Obama was elected into office, the perception among African Americans that they are discriminated against in several areas of life in America show notable drops:

  • In getting a quality education in public schools (down 22 points, from 67% in 2008 to 45% in 2014);
  • In getting decent housing (down 14 points, from 76% to 62%, respectively);
  • In the wages they are paid (down 13 points, from 76% to 63%, respectively); and
  • In getting skilled labor jobs (down 13 points, from 74% to 61%, respectively).

These findings represent the first in a two-part series on the state of discrimination in the United States.

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TABLE 1

PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS IN AMERICA – By All Adults

Below is a list of some specific areas of life in America. For each, please indicate if you think blacks are discriminated against in that area or not?

Percent saying Discriminated Against

Base: All Americans

1969

1972

2008

2014

vs. 1969

vs. 2008

%

%

%

%

% Points

% Points

In the way they are treated by police

25

29

58

59

+34

+1

In getting full equality

47

44

46

45

-2

-1

In the way they are treated as human beings

39

41

43

44

+5

+1

In getting white collar office jobs

42

44

37

34

-8

-3

In getting decent housing

50

52

34

34

-16

=

In the wages they are paid

27

26

33

31

+4

-2

In getting skilled labor jobs

40

42

29

27

-13

-2

In getting a quality education in public schools

28

32

29

26

-2

-3

In the way they are treated by the federal government

n/a

13

23

23

+10

=

In getting hotel and motel accommodations

38

33

16

19

-19

+3

In getting into labor unions

26

30

17

18

-8

+1

In getting manual labor jobs

22

23

14

15

-7

+1

In the prices they pay in grocery stores

16

18

10

10

-6

=

Note 1: n/a indicates not asked in that year

Note 2: 1969 and 1972 data collected via telephone; 2008 and 2014 data collected online

Since 1972

 

TABLE 2

PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS IN AMERICA – By Black Americans

Below is a list of some specific areas of life in America. For each, please indicate if you think blacks are discriminated against in that area or not?

Percent saying Discriminated Against

Base: Black Americans

1969

1972

2008

2014

vs. 1969

vs. 2008

%

%

%

%

% Points

% Points

In the way they are treated by police

76

66

89

85

+9

-4

In getting full equality

84

72

86

78

-6

-8

In the way they are treated as human beings

77

64

75

71

-6

-4

In getting white collar office jobs

82

68

77

70

-12

-7

In the wages they are paid

73

61

76

63

-10

-13

In getting decent housing

83

66

76

62

-21

-14

In getting skilled labor jobs

83

66

74

61

-22

-13

In the way they are treated by the federal government

n/a

41

62

60

+19

-2

In getting a quality education in public schools

72

53

67

45

-27

-22

In getting into labor unions

64

47

42

41

-23

-1

In getting hotel and motel accommodations

68

44

29

36

-32

+7

In the prices they pay in grocery stores

51

35

31

34

-17

+3

In getting manual labor jobs

58

47

34

30

-28

-4

Note 1: n/a indicates not asked in that year

Note 2: 1969 and 1972 data collected via telephone; 2008 and 2014 data collected online

Since 1972


TABLE 3

PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS IN AMERICA – By White Americans

Below is a list of some specific areas of life in America. For each, please indicate if you think blacks are discriminated against in that area or not?

Percent saying Discriminated Against

Base: White Americans

1969

1972

2008

2014

vs. 1969

vs. 2008

%

%

%

%

% Points

% Points

In the way they are treated by police

19

25

54

55

+36

+1

In getting full equality

43

40

39

41

-2

+2

In the way they are treated as human beings

35

38

37

39

+4

+2

In getting white collar office jobs

38

40

29

28

-10

-1

In getting decent housing

46

51

27

28

-18

+1

In the wages they are paid

22

22

24

25

+3

+1

In getting a quality education in public schools

23

29

22

22

-1

=

In getting skilled labor jobs

35

40

21

22

-13

+1

In the way they are treated by the federal government

n/a

10

17

16

+6

-1

In getting hotel and motel accommodations

35

31

13

15

-20

+2

In getting into labor unions

22

28

12

14

-8

+2

In getting manual labor jobs

18

20

10

12

-6

+2

In the prices they pay in grocery stores

12

16

7

7

-5

=

Note 1: n/a indicates not asked in that year

Note 2: 1969 and 1972 data collected via telephone; 2008 and 2014 data collected online

Since 1972

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 15 and 20, 2014 among 2,236 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #15, February 13, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.