Local News

Poll: Nearly quarter in NC don't view systemic racism as a problem

Posted October 16, 2020 4:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2020 8:07 p.m. EDT

— Almost one in four North Carolinians say systemic racism isn't an issue, or if so, not a very serious one, according to the results of a WRAL News poll released Friday.

SurveyUSA polled 900 adults across the state between Oct. 8 and last Sunday for the exclusive poll, which also found that voters are gaining confidence that mailed absentee ballots will be counted accurately in the upcoming election. The poll responses have confidence intervals of +/-3.5 to 4.8 percentage points.

Fifty-three percent of those polled said they believe systemic racism in the U.S. is a "very serious" issue, but 11 percent said it wasn't an issue at all, and another 11 percent said it isn't a very serious issue. Another 21 percent called it "somewhat of an issue."

Not surprisingly, Black and Latino respondents were much more likely to view racism as problematic than whites who were polled. Eighty-seven percent of Blacks and 69 percent of Latinos called it a very serious issue, compared with 40 percent of whites. Twenty-nine percent of whites said it wasn't an issue or not a serious one, compared with 6 percent of Blacks and 13 percent of Latinos.

Older, more conservative people also don't view systemic racism as a serious problem, according to the poll:

  • More Republicans said it was a non-issue or not a serious one than called it very serious (35-29 percent).
  • People who describe themselves as conservative showed a similar breakdown, with 30 percent calling it very serious and 39 percent saying it wasn't.
  • Thirty-nine percent of people age 65 and older called it a very serious issue, while 35 percent said it wasn't very serious or not an issue at all.
  • Thirty-six percent of evangelicals called it very serious, with 28 percent saying it's not an issue or not a serious one.

More than three-quarters of those polled said people protesting racial injustice should be prosecuted when a protest turns violent and property is damaged or looted.

Younger and more liberal people were more likely to say that violent protests shouldn't lead to criminal charges.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents ages 18 to 34 said protesters who cause damage or commit crimes should be issued citations or let go, as did 39 percent of those who classify themselves as liberal, 48 percent of Latinos and 35 percent of Blacks.

Longtime civil rights attorney Irving Joyner, who teaches law at North Carolina Central University, said young people are more likely than their parents to know and empathize with people of other races.

"They are expressing that they are engaged in protests. They are engaged in speaking out. They’re engaged in the policy-making debate," Joyner said. "I think that there is growth of racial understanding and empathy from the white side. People, and particularly younger people, are better understanding the lived experience that racial minorities are having."

Fewer qualms about absentee voting

The WRAL poll also asked people about casting absentee ballots by mail. Compared with the findings of a poll WRAL conducted a month ago, people expressed more confidence that such ballots will be counted accurately this election.

Thirty-three percent of respondents in the latest poll said they have full confidence absentee ballots will be handled properly, up from 25 percent in mid-September. Thirty-one percent said they have little or no confidence the ballots will be counted accurately, down from 36 percent in the previous poll.

"Unfortunately, I think this fits in to a broader theme we have consistently seen, particularly over the last couple of years, and that is a lack of trust and confidence in our institutions," said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College

President Donald Trump continues to allege without substantiation that mailed ballots will lead to fraudulent election results, and the poll reflects a growing partisan divide regarding absentee ballots.

Republicans were only half as likely as Democrats (22 to 45 percent) to express full confidence that absentee ballots would be counted accurately. A month ago, 30 percent of both Democrats and Republicans expressed full confidence. Forty-three percent of Republicans say they have little or no confidence in the system – about the same as the earlier poll – while the percent of Democrats who hold that position has dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent.

The growing overall confidence was reflected in a slight increase in those saying they plan to mail their ballots this year – 24 percent versus 21 percent a month ago.

A bigger jump was among those who said they plan to vote in person during North Carolina's early voting period, which started Thursday and runs through Oct. 31. Forty-four percent said they plan to vote early, up from 40 percent a month ago.

Bitzer said those figures fall into line with recent elections.

"If you go back to 2016, two-thirds of all the ballots came before Election Day, and the vast majority were done in person," he said. "With the exponential increase in absentee-by-mail ballots, I would not be surprised if we see 70 percent – I've heard as high as 80 percent – of all the ballots cast this year come before Nov. 3."

WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and WRAL anchor/reporter Mark Boyle contributed to this report.

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