Forty-two percent of Americans say they worry a “great deal” about race relations here in the United States, according to a new Gallup Poll released Wednesday, March 15. Worries about the issue rose seven percent from 2016, marking a record high in Gallup’s 17-year trend.
This year marks the third year in a row that concerns over race relations have increased by significant margins. Heightened concerns over the issue are a clear sign of the times as the nation continues to grapple with the rash of police shootings involving African-American men and the recent election of contested President Donald Trump. The new president’s racist and oftentimes divisive rhetoric has since emboldened some right-wing extremists to go out and commit racially charged crimes.
The number of Americans who expressed a “great deal” of worry over race relations reached an all-time low of 13 percent in 2010, during the early years of former President Barack Obama’s time in office, the poll showed. This downward trend in worry started around the end of George W. Bush’s presidency and remained in the teens until 2015.
Levels of concern about the issue have skyrocketed in the past three years, however. In 2014, 17 percent of Americans expressed a great deal of worry about the country’s race relations, but that number jumped to a staggering 28 percent the following year. By 2016, 35 percent of Americans expressed significant worry over mounting racial tensions.
“This surge in worry about race relations likely stems from the racial tensions and public discourse sparked by high-profile incidents of police shooting unarmed Black men and of Black men shooting police in retaliation,” the report stated. “[Police] shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota all occurred after Gallup” last asked about the issue in March 2016.
The research-based company also attributed the sharp rise in worry to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose members have outwardly protested the allegedly racist police shootings of Black men. Their presence his since sparked the creation of counter groups like “White Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
The political success o Trump and his recent Twitter feud with African-American activist and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) also are likely factors. The real estate tycoon-turned-politician has routinely referred to Black people as “the African-Americans,” likened predominately Black and Latino communities to “war zones” and even described Mexican immigrants as drug-hauling rapists.
When examined along political party lines, Democrats seem to be more worried about U.S. race relations that both Republicans and Independents. For instance, the poll indicated that the level of concern among Dems has climbed 33 percentage points in the past three years, now resting at 59 percent. While Republicans and Independents expressed more worry now than they did in 2014, their increases (26 percent and 17 percent, respectively) are smaller than that of Democrats.
The level of worry among GOPers also doubled from 12 percent to 26 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to Gallup. Republicans have consistently shown less concern over race relations than Democrats, but the margin of worry between the two political parties was much larger this year than it has been in recent year.
“Republicans’ worries have not increased significantly this year, even after high-profile shootings by police and of police in 2016,” the report concluded. “Whether the overall amount of worry about this issue goes up or down in the coming year will likely depend on how many high-profile incidents occur and how Americans react to Trump’s comments and actions related to race.”
Race relations/racism emerged as the No. 1 concern among Americans on Gallup’s most important problem list last year.