A slight majority of Americans express prejudiced feelings toward blacks—even if they don’t recognize that they hold those feelings. Compared to a similar survey conducted in 2008, racial prejudice has increased slightly: 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in the 2008 survey.
The survey also used a method to reveal implicit racial prejudice—and found that on this measure, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
“As much as we’d hope the impact of race would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago,” said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the survey.
How much these racist feelings will hurt President Obama’s re-election chances are unclear. But many African-Americans have said they found an increase in antagonism toward blacks since he was elected—pointing to a seeming increase in police brutality or racist bumper stickers, cartoons and protest posters that mock the president as a lion or a monkey, or lynch him in effigy.
“Part of it is growing polarization within American society,” said Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. “The last Democrat in the White House said we had to have a national discussion about race. There’s been total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you see, whether there is silence, or an elevation of the discussion of race, you still have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate these deep feelings.”
Most Americans expressed negative feelings about Hispanics, too. In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.
Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).
The explicit racism measures asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about black and Hispanic people. Respondents were also asked how well they thought certain words, such as “friendly,” ”hardworking,” ”violent” and “lazy,” described blacks, whites and Hispanics.
The same respondents were also administered a survey designed to measure implicit racism, in which a photo of a black, Hispanic or white male flashed on the screen before a neutral image of a Chinese character. The respondents were then asked to rate their feelings toward the Chinese character. Previous research has shown that people transfer their feelings about the photo onto the character, allowing researchers to measure racist feelings even if a respondent does not acknowledge them.
All the surveys were conducted online because researchers have found poll takers are more likely to share unpopular attitudes when they are filling out a survey using a computer rather than speaking with an interviewer.