Politics

Republicans Are Out of the Mainstream on Race

On the Chauvin trial, civil rights, and acknowledging discrimination, GOP voters don’t line up with the rest of the country.

A crowd of protesters at night, with one person in the foreground holding up an illustrated poster of George Floyd
Protesters gather in front of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Friday. Christopher Mark Juhn/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Americans are divided in their views on the killing of George Floyd. But the biggest division isn’t along racial lines. It’s between Republicans and everyone else. This week, in an Economist/YouGov poll, 64 percent of Americans said police were “not justified in the amount of force they used” in Floyd’s arrest, but only 41 percent of Republicans agreed. Most Americans said former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should be convicted of murder, but only 31 percent of Republicans agreed. On both questions, Republicans differed sharply, by margins of about 20 percentage points, from independent voters and from white Americans as a whole. People who don’t like integration, or who don’t acknowledge discrimination, have consolidated in the Republican Party. And they’re losing touch with the rest of America.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Democrats, predictably, are to the left of the national average on these questions. But in today’s most pressing racial matters, independents tend to side with Democrats, leaving Republicans in the minority. Americans as a whole agree, by a ratio of 2-to-1, that Black people and white people don’t “receive equal treatment from the police.” But Republicans, by almost the same ratio, disagree. Most Americans say that the deaths of Black Americans in recent well-publicized police encounters represent a broader problem, but more than 70 percent of Republicans insist that these are just “isolated incidents.” Most Americans agree that the rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 would have been treated more harshly if they had been Black, but few Republicans agree. In fact, Republicans are just as likely to claim that the police would have treated Black rioters less harshly.

Advertisement

In one recent survey, 40 percent of Americans said “racism in our society” was a big problem. Only 14 percent of Republicans endorsed that view. In another poll, 30 percent of Republicans said “racial inequality” was “not a problem at all.” Only 14 percent of Americans took that position. Two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. is doing only a fair or poor job of “providing equality and justice for all groups,” but most Republicans say the U.S. is doing an excellent or good job. Republicans are far more likely to say that conservatives face a great deal of discrimination than to say that Black people do. On all of these questions, Republicans are wildly out of step not just with Democrats, but with political independents and with white Americans as a whole.

Advertisement
Advertisement

In much of white America, Floyd’s death provoked reflection about racial inequality. But those discussions don’t seem to have permeated the GOP. In a Politico/Morning Consult survey taken a month ago, most voters said “Black Lives Matter protests over the last year” had “brought about meaningful conversations” about race relations. Only 25 percent of Republicans agreed. And there’s a sharp discrepancy between the experiences of people of color—as reported in polls by those people—and Republican perceptions of those experiences. In this week’s Economist survey, 82 percent of Blacks and 70 percent of Hispanics said relations between minorities and police were bad. But 63 percent of Republicans said relations between minorities and police were good.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Republicans often claim that their hostility to Black Lives Matter, which has an unfavorable rating of roughly 80 percent in the GOP, is about the movement’s left-wing ideas. But in a poll taken in January, a plurality of Republicans also spurned the idea that “Martin Luther King’s birthday should be a federal holiday.” (Only 24 percent of Americans shared that view.) And when Republicans were asked, hypothetically, about a company endorsing “civil rights” in a Super Bowl ad, they were more likely to view the company less favorably than to view it more favorably.

Advertisement

Racial discomfort and indifference to racism run deep in the GOP. In a CBS News poll taken in January, among Americans who expressed a positive or negative view of “the changing racial diversity in the U.S.,” more than two-thirds said it was a good thing. But among Republicans who expressed a positive or negative view, most said it was bad. (Half the Republican sample said it was neither.) Another survey found the same discrepancy. In a third poll, taken in March, most voters said the president definitely “has a responsibility to condemn bigotry and discrimination that happens in this country.” But only a third of Republicans agreed.

Advertisement

The partisan gap extends to views of Asian Americans. In January, voters overwhelmingly endorsed President Joe Biden’s executive order “denouncing discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” but Republicans were closely divided on it. Two weeks ago, a Navigator survey noted that “over the past year, there have been nearly 3,800 reported hate incidents targeting Asian Americans.” The questionnaire added that six Asian women had just been shot to death in Atlanta. Given these prompts, most voters said “increased violence against Asian Americans” was a very serious problem. But only 29 percent of Republicans gave the same answer. In the same survey, 60 percent of voters supported the idea of “opening investigations into incidents, like the yelling of racial slurs, that can’t legally be categorized as hate crimes.” But a plurality of Republicans opposed that idea.

Advertisement
Advertisement

In all of these polls, Republicans stand far apart, not just from Democrats but from independents and from white respondents as a whole. And the pattern extends far beyond the Chauvin trial. Compared with white voters and independents, Republicans are far more hostile to reparations, far less receptive to racial concerns about Georgia’s new election law, far less likely to support reinforcement of the Voting Rights Act, and far less willing to prioritize COVID vaccination of “racial groups who have experienced high rates of illness.” Even “a presidential task force to work on addressing racial inequality in the criminal justice system” is too much for them. In a Morning Consult poll taken in January, voters endorsed that idea by about 40 percentage points. So did white voters. But a plurality of Republicans rejected the idea.

Segregation is pernicious. It corrupts everyone, not just by exacerbating inequalities of opportunity and outcome, but also by separating us into communities, classes, and factions that don’t connect with one another. Most Americans don’t share the racial attitudes that prevail in today’s GOP, and that’s a good thing. But the prevalence of those views within the Republican Party, and the party’s imperviousness to the national reckoning that’s going on around it, should worry us all.

Advertisement