On the Feb. 22 episode of Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ podcast and nightly YouTube livestream, Real Coffee with Scott Adams, he began his hourlong show like he always does, by inviting his audience for a ceremonious “simultaneous sip.”* He went on with his standard fare—a handful of headlines accompanied by his quick takes—until he steered to a “provocative” new Rasmussen poll.
“They said, ‘Do you agree with or disagree with the statement “It’s OK to be white”?’ ” Adams reported. He paused and looked directly into the camera. “That was an actual question.”
Adams read the result of the Rasmussen poll: “47 percent of Black respondents were not willing to say it’s OK to be white. That’s actually—that’s, like, a real poll,” he said.
The rest you’ve probably already seen clipped online: “If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people—according to this poll, not according to me,” he said, “that’s a hate group.” He added that white people should “get the hell away from Black people.” Adams later tried to walk back his comments as misunderstood—“everyone should be treated as an individual,” he said in another episode of his show—but not before hundreds of newspapers committed to dropping his strip and his publisher killed a planned book.
I cannot overemphasize how dumb it is that Adams finally filleted his reputation in full over a trolly Rasmussen poll. If you’re not familiar, Rasmussen is a right-leaning pollster that produces semi-mainstream polls but is noted for its murky methods and what the New York Times has called “dubious sampling and weighting techniques.” Rasmussen’s results are often an outlier when it comes to, say, presidential approval numbers, as when Donald Trump famously cited a Rasmussen poll when it claimed to show a 50 percent job approval rating, more than 10 points higher than Gallup’s report at the time.
We don’t know the exact methodology used for the poll. In a press release touting its results, Rasmussen teased “additional information” behind a paywall. I signed up for a platinum membership, but I found only a brief text summary of the findings.
Rasmussen said it presented 1,000 respondents with a two-question prompt to quantify “the ‘woke’ narrative” in America: “Do you agree or disagree with this statement: ‘It’s OK to be white’ ” and “Do you agree or disagree with this statement: ‘Black people can be racist, too.’ ” Respondents were asked to choose between “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “somewhat disagree,” “strongly disagree,” and “not sure.” The results, as shared on Twitter once the firestorm began:
Rasmussen said 13 percent of poll respondents were Black, so about 130 people. If we take the results entirely at face value—which I’d discourage—that means it found about 34 Black people who answered “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement “It’s OK to be white.” We have no more information about why. (Adams got to his figure by also including Black respondents who answered “not sure.”)
If you have any doubt about what Rasmussen is doing here, I encourage you to take in the big doofus energy in the video below, this time featuring Rasmussen’s head of polling, Mark Mitchell:
Mitchell, who until a couple of years ago worked on Walmart e-commerce, assumes the posture of a wannabe truth-telling media personality: “We tell you what America really thinks. And I can tell you that increasingly the reality of American public opinion does not match what you’re being told in the news.” He says the “Is it OK to be white?” question “would literally melt the brain of a mainstream journalist if they try to put these numbers to ink.”
I’ve just put these numbers to ink, and my brain isn’t melting. But it does hurt a little bit. That’s because, as Rasmussen surely knows, the phrase “It’s OK to be white” is a right-wing troll that originated in the forums of 4chan. As the Washington Post chronicled in 2017, the term was originally intended as a covert way to force an overreaction from progressives, including liberal journalists, if it started to spread, which in turn would show that “lefties” hate white people. Soon, signs bearing the slogan did crop up on campuses and other places around the country. The hysteria never arrived, but as Mitchell notes, the Anti-Defamation League marked the phrase a “hate slogan”—reasonably, given that it was white supremacists (most notably David Duke) who ran with the 4chan prank in the first place.
Rasmussen apparently assumed its audience would be too stupid to know any of that, and in the case of Scott Adams, it was clearly right. Perhaps some of the people Rasmussen polled were aware of the history of the phrase, which at one point made it into a Tucker Carlson monologue; it’s hard to say, and Rasmussen didn’t care to ask. But the whole charade seemed clearly designed to end up on shows like Adams’, where it purported to become a referendum on whether or not Black Americans hate white people. Better pollsters would tell you that if you really wanted to assess Americans’ views on race, as the Pew Research Center has done well, you would avoid terms with strong political associations like “it’s OK to be white,” or even “Black Lives Matter.” That is far from what happened here.
The irony is that the “it’s OK to be white” troll has now undone Adams worse than it did any supposed campus hysterics. This is hardly Adams’ first rodeo—he’s made sexist comments for years, and once claimed the television network UPN fired him for being white—but it seems he may have fried Dilbert for good this time. (His most prominent defender so far is Elon Musk.) “The question was probably interpreted differently by people, so I wouldn’t live by that poll,” Adams said in a follow-up interview over the weekend. “If the data shows the opposite,” he added, “I would change my opinion. It’s a data-based opinion. I would apologize.” Alas, Adams lived by the poll—and Rasmussen got exactly what it wanted.
Correction, Feb. 28: This article originally misidentified the episode date as Feb. 23. The episode aired on Feb. 22.