Do Americans Really Have “Antiquated” Views on Race?

Source: Center for Politics. (Click for more legible image.)

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has just published the results of a poll on Civil War statues and race. To my mind, the questions about the Civil War statues are the least interesting. Nationally, Americans say by a two-to-one margin to leave the statues alone, which tells us nothing that previous polls haven’t revealed. More interesting is the spin that the Center put on the answers to its questions about attitudes towards race.

While few Americans surveyed expressed direct support for hate groups like the KKK, Nazis and Antifa, stated the press release accompanying the poll, “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.”

Large numbers agreed with the statement that “white people are under attack,” and disagreed that “nonwhites are under attack,” while a third of respondents agreed that the country needs to “protect and preserve its White European heritage.” Then the press release said this (the emphasis is the Center’s):

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).

Moreover, it appears that those Nazis and Klansmen marching in Charlottesville (and perhaps this weekend in Richmond) have lots of closet sympathizers. Six percent of the 5,360 people polled said they strongly or somewhat supported the “alt-right,” another 8% white nationalism, and another 4% neo-Nazism.

Let’s deconstruct this analysis. First, it should be reassuring that despite the surge of identity politics in the nation, 80% of Americans said they “strongly agree” and 9% said they “somewhat agree” with the question that “all races should be treated equally.” I do find it disturbing that 11% disagree with this fundamental proposition or simply aren’t sure about it. I would like to know who those people are. Many would jump to the conclusion that anyone expressing retrograde sentiments must be racist whites. But the Center’s crosstabs don’t support that conclusion.

Whites are more likely to agree than other groups with the proposition that all races should be treated equally.

A related question is whether “all races are equal.”

Whites agree with the statement by a significantly larger margin than blacks — 85% to 68%. But what does that mean? If someone one disagrees, does that mean he or she is an old-style racist who believes in black inferiority? Does it mean that the respondent does not believe the races are treated equally? Or does it mean something else entirely? Given the ambiguity of the question, it is almost worthless.

How about the question that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage?”

The tenor of the question invokes Klan and neo-Nazi rhetoric that Americans of European descent are oppressed… or whatever it is they whine about. But the question lends itself to a white variety of interpretations, as should be made clear by the fact that almost as Hispanics and Others (a group consisting primarily of Asians) agreed with the statement as did whites. I would conjecture that many who answered in the positive interpreted the question to mean that America must protect its “Western European heritage,” including everything from Christianity and the spirit of inquiry to democracy, free markets, human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, had I been asked, that how I might have interpreted it.

I won’t bother to display the results of the question of whites and nonwhites being “under attack.” Are we talking about being physically under attack, as in police assaults on innocent African-Americans, or rhetorically under attack, as in verbal assaults on “white privilege”? Are blacks “under attack” if they are not enrolled in college in the same percentages as whites and Asians? Conversely, are whites “under attack” if colleges set quotas to ensure minority participation? There are so many ways to interpret the question that the results are meaningless.

Now let’s address the question of racial intermarriage.

By a small margin, a higher percentage of whites than blacks, Hispanics and Others agree that “marriage should be allowed only between people of the same race.” But again, this is an ambiguous question. Does roughly one-sixth of the population support a return of miscegenation laws, as the Center’s press release implies by invoking Loving vs. Virginia? Or do some people oppose intermarriage personally — as in, they would rule it out for themselves or their children? And if they do personally oppose intermarriage, what is the reason? Do they harbor bigoted feelings towards members of other races? Are they concerned about preserving their cultural heritage and pride of ancestry? Or could they have some other reason altogether?

Lastly, we get to a series of questions asking whether people “support or oppose” various labels such as the “alt-right,” “white nationalism,” and “neo-Nazism.” Disturbingly, some 4% to 8% of whites express support for these movements. But in almost every case, even greater percentages of blacks, Hispanics and Others support them. Perhaps the press release headline should say, “Blacks support neo-Nazi movement by twice the margin as whites!”

What can we possibly make of such findings? They are not a fluke, incidentally, for they have surfaced in other polls? I don’t know the answer, but I suggest that attitudes toward race relations are far more complex than is acknowledged by those who designed the Center for Politics questionnaire.

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6 responses to “Do Americans Really Have “Antiquated” Views on Race?

  1. This is as fascinating a poll as I’ve seen in a while, although for all I know some other entity polls regularly on racial attitudes.

    I found it chilling that 4 percent of respondents admitted admiration for neo-Nazis and a slightly higher percentage admitted admiration for Antifa. The level of ambivalence toward them was also disturbing. We may see that drama play out this weekend again on the famed Monument Avenue. Put the two together and that is a more than ten percent of the adult population admiring groups antithetical to our Constitution and willing to promote or participate in violence.

    I found it hilarious that 80+ percent of Republicans are so deeply attached to statues that clearly were put up in order to, among other things, stir the loyalties of Democrats in southern states to vote out and keep out any remaining GOP carpetbaggers and scalawags. But read that poll and you can see Corey Stewart is politically cagey despite his own GAR roots. Right now he has the field to himself, doesn’t he.

    If the earlier NBC Marist poll is to be believed, then this poll reflects a change in African-American sentiment and a stronger sentiment against the statues has developed in a short period of time. This explains some of the Democrats who have been shifting around.

  2. I found the survey to be a LOT to try to digest… and maybe not so carefully constructed as to be able to get knife-edge results . and maybe Sabato did that on purpose.

    but this part is where the racial divide can be seen quite readily:

    ” 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.

    there is a lot of daylight between those two perspectives and it really exposes a significant racial divide .. in an era where folks were talking “post racial”.

    Large numbers of Whites and Blacks totally disagree about BLM and the idea that police are killing blacks or imprisoning them at higher rates…

    This divide is readily reflected in several PEW polls and other polls.

  3. Here’s the basic question:

    If you are a white guy and a black guy tells you that the Statues ARE OFFENSIVE to him -and he’d be happy for them to be somewhere OTHER than in front of him every day in his daily life…

    what is your response?

    Would you .. not believe him … or just reject what he says?

    what is your response as a white guy when a black guy tells you the Confederate Flag is offensive to him when it flies in a public space?

    do you remove it? do you disagree with him that the flag is offensive?
    Do you just reject his views all together because it’s not offensive to you?

    • I think context is key. I see a big difference between statues of Confederate Generals placed in public parks and RoWs after the end of Reconstruction and concurrent with the rise of Jim Crow laws and statues of Confederate Generals located on battlefields, cemeteries and museums.

      In the former case, a good argument can be made that the statues should be moved or at least supplemented by other statues that provide a more complete view of the times at hand. In any event, the affected localities should make these decisions and only after input from an advisory committee that is both broad and diverse. I think good intentioned people can learn from each other and make good recommendations for their community.

      In the latter cases, the statues should be left alone, but probably given more context to the extent appropriate, most especially in museums and battlefields.

      I see no reason why a public entity should fly the Confederate flag in public space unless it is part of a display of all of the flags that have flown over the state, etc. Say for Texas, any known Native American banners, the Spanish flag, the Mexican flag, the Texas Republic flag, the United States flag, the Confederate flag, and the United States flag. Private parties can fly whatever they desire.

  4. Dear Jim,

    I think the terminology of “antiquated” is obfuscatory. What is really being discussed are two things: One is equality and inequality of abilities between racial or people groups. The second is what one could call “natural law”, that there is a moral aspect to the existence of these groups, so that intermarriage is seen as a breaking of the natural law by individual will.

    The first question can have a religious component, but does not have to. An atheist is not “bound” to believe in equality. After all, if evolution is blind and pitiless, than why shouldn’t groups be unequal? So why the insistence on equality by people who believe in chance and fate as the modus operandi of the whole universe? A Christian can at least ask, “Why would God make inequalities between groups?” One answer could be “Of course He would not!” Another answer could just as likely be, “because He is the potter and we are the clay and it is His will to do so. Who are you to ask ‘why’?” We know there are differences between individuals, and, if Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein, Arthur Jensen and many others, are correct, then that is just the way things are about groups as well, and being “antiquated” in terms of when these beliefs had political sway is irrelevant. And in terms of the religious aspect of this question, EVEN IF there are differences between groups in intelligence, the Christian still answers that God loves all people equally, whether they have high intelligence or low because they are all made in His image.

    The second question of “natural law” which is related to things like intermarriage, does have a religious component. Atheists who attribute all life and all racial differences to a blind Evolution have no real recourse to “natural law” since there is no intelligibility in terms of PURPOSE to things, anything. Things just are, in that perspective. In terms of Christians, there has been in the last 20-30 years to create a sense of dualism, that God only cares about spiritual things, not matter. This is not only true among “Main Line” denominations but even among some Evangelicals, at seems to me. The Papacy’s support of Evolution since at least Vatican II has tended to uphold such a position. However, for those who believe that all things were created by God, that He intended everything that He willed, then lawful human will is circumscribed. Natural law is either true or it is not, given ones beliefs, and whether it is “antiquated” mainly means do the numbers of people who used to overwhelmingly believe in it in prior generations still do in today’s generations? I should mention that issues of homosexuality and transsexualism and male-female relations are bound up in this issue. It used to be called normality and abnormality, something Liberals no longer believe in.



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