WASHINGTON—Following nationwide protests and widespread unrest over racial injustice this summer, a new PRRI survey finds these events have had no impact on the attitudes of Republicans and white evangelicals. The national survey of over 1,000 Americans was conducted by PRRI between June 26-29, approximately one month after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25th.
“In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, the attitudes of Democrats and religiously unaffiliated Americans have shifted significantly, but there has been no movement among Republicans and white evangelical Protestants,” notes Robert P. Jones, CEO, and Founder of PRRI and author of the new book, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, which analyzes the historical trends on these issues. “For example, approximately eight in ten Republicans and seven in ten white evangelical Protestants continue to say that the recent killings of Black men by police are isolated incidents, rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans—numbers that are unchanged since PRRI began asking this question in 2015.”
Today, a majority (56%) of Americans believe that recent killings of unarmed Black men are part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans, compared to 42% who say these are isolated incidents. These views are consistent with views in 2018 but are significantly different from 2015 when a majority (53%) believed these events were isolated incidents. But this new survey reveals a pattern of increasing polarization along lines of party and religion.
- Republicans are about as likely today (78%) as they were in 2015 (82%) to say the killing of Black men by police are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans. By contrast, Democrats are about half as likely today (17%) as they were in 2015 (32%) to agree with this sentiment. Among white Democrats, the attitudinal shift is even bigger (19% today vs. 43% in 2015).
- Similarly, white evangelical Protestant attitudes on this question have not moved over the last five years, with 72% in both 2020 and 2015 agree that the killing of Black men by police are isolated incidents.
- Majorities of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics also continue to believe that the killing of Black men by police are isolated incidents (53% and 56% respectively). Notably, however, these beliefs among white mainline Protestants and white Catholics have dropped significantly over the last five years (from 73% and 71% respectively in 2015).
- By contrast, only 30% of white religiously unaffiliated Americans believe that the killing of Black men by police are isolated incidents, down from 44% in 2015.
On the issue of Confederate monuments, the survey finds that Republicans and Democrats are moving in opposite directions, and the gap among whites who identify as Christian and those who claim no religious affiliation is growing.
- Republicans are more likely today (93%) than in 2017 (84%) to say that they see monuments to Confederate soldiers more as a symbol of Southern pride than a symbol of racism. By contrast, Democrats are less likely today (29%) than in 2017 (40%) to agree with this sentiment. Again, the shift among white Democrats is even larger (31% today vs. 49% in 2017).
- Eighty-six percent of white evangelical Protestants today say they see monuments to Confederate soldiers more as a symbol of Southern pride than a symbol of racism, up from 81% in 2017.
- Seven in ten (70%) white mainline Protestants agree with this sentiment, unchanged since 2017. And nearly eight in ten (78%) white Catholics agree with this sentiment, up from 72%in 2017.
- By contrast, only 45% of white religiously unaffiliated Americans agree with this sentiment, down from 51% in 2017.
The survey finds remarkably similar patterns and trends across a range of questions related to structural racism, such as perceptions of Confederate flags, so-called “reverse discrimination,” and beliefs about the continued impact of past discrimination against African Americans. The survey also finds large attitude gaps on these issues among white Americans by education level and age. A full report is available on the PRRI website at PRRI.org.