A new poll in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, finds that while Americans widely say they oppose racism and white nationalism, many still appear to hold far-right, white supremacist views.
The Ipsos poll, for Thomson Reuters and the University of Virginia Center for Politics, was conducted online from Aug. 21 to Sept. 5 ― in the weeks following the deadly white supremacist rally on the University of Virginia campus. It sampled around 5,360 American adults, asking questions about race that respondents could agree or disagree with to varying degrees.
“While there is relatively little national endorsement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” according to the release describing the poll’s findings, “there are troubling levels of support for certain racially-charged ideas and attitudes frequently expressed by extremist groups.”
While the vast majority of Americans polled expressed support for racial equality when asked in so many words ― 70 percent strongly agreed that “all races are equal,” and 89 percent agreed that all races should be treated equally ― people’s responses got murkier when it came to expressing their viewpoints on particular issues related to race and extremism.
Thirty-one percent of Americans polled strongly or somewhat agreed that ‘America must protect and preserve its White European heritage.’
For instance, while only 8 percent of respondents said they supported white nationalism as a group or movement, a far larger percentage said they supported viewpoints widely held by white supremacist groups: 31 percent of Americans polled strongly or somewhat agreed that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage,” and 39 percent agreed that “white people are currently under attack in this country.”
“The poll results do show both an American public that overwhelmingly rejects racist affiliations and movements but at the same time is more tolerant of racially insensitive positions,” Kyle Kondik, communications director at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told HuffPost.
“The results may be what you might expect from a country that is arguably defined by racial conflict,” he added. “And one that can vote for an African-American for president who ran on unity less than a decade ago, and then turn around and vote for a vehemently anti-immigrant candidate who exploited white grievances just last year.”
The poll addressed several hot-button issues surrounding racial justice in America ― and in many cases, the majority of respondents seemed to agree with more conservative viewpoints.
When it comes to the debate about removing Confederate monuments, for instance, most Americans polled (57 percent) said they think the statues should remain in public spaces, and less than one-third (26 percent) said they think they should be removed.
Touching on recent heated debates surrounding free speech versus hate speech, the poll found a majority of Americans (59 percent) agreed with the statement that “‘political correctness’ threatens our liberty as Americans to speak our minds,” a view often touted by conservative leaders ― including President Donald Trump.
Even support for interracial marriage ― 50 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia ― isn’t as widespread as one might think: Around 1 in 6 Americans, or 16 percent, strongly or somewhat agreed that “marriage should only be allowed between people of the same race,” while 65 percent of Americans disagreed.
As NAACP Legal Defense Fund staffer Janai Nelson told HuffPost last month: “Calling out extremists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis is an important but very low bar for where we should be as a society at this stage in our democracy.”
“What we should be [having] is a much more nuanced and deepened understanding of how those ‘isms’ manifest in policy, in systems, in a cloak of oppression that still lives with us,” Nelson said.