Seattle riot police. Photo by Alex Garland.

Weekend Long Reads: America’s Complicated Beliefs on Race, Opportunity, and Policing

by Kevin Schofield

Last week Axios and Ipsos released the results of their recent “Hard Truth Civil Rights” poll, which looks deeply at how Americans view issues of race, justice, opportunity, and policing after the events of the past year. The results show some stark differences across racial lines in the lenses through which we see the world, most notably between white and Black Americans — but also with Hispanic and Asian Americans. While we talk a lot these days about BIPOC communities, they are far from monolithic: the experiences of racial and ethnic groups in the United States vary substantially, as well as what they worry about, what they think about law enforcement, and where they see racism affecting their and others’ lives.

We see this clearly with the first question in the poll, which asked respondents to name their top three worries. Even just a month ago, already less than a quarter of white Americans listed COVID-19 as a top worry, while 47% of Asian Americans did. On the other hand, 59% of Black Americans named “racial justice and discrimination” as one of their top three worries, compared to only 17% of white Americans. 

Screenshot from Axios/Ipsos poll
(Click to enlarge.) Screenshot from Axios/Ipsos poll.

There was broad agreement that the events of the past year have shown that there is still plenty of racism in the United States and that Asian Americans have faced discrimination as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but far less agreement on the contours of racial discrimination and whether the 2020 protests had a positive impact.

Likewise, thoughts on policing and what should be done to reform it often defied easy categorization. The views of white and Black Americans often marked the extremes, with Asian and Hispanic Americans somewhere in the middle, but the poll results demonstrate very clearly that we are not just a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society, but truly a multi-cultural one. Pick any two of the four groups, and you will find points of strong agreement as well as points of sharp disagreement between them. 

Several of the questions in the survey ask about respondents’ views on policing: from favorability toward law enforcement (more positive than you might imagine — except among Black respondents), to whether police treat all Americans equally (“no” across the board), and various types of police reforms ranging from “defund the police” (broadly opposed) to independent investigations of police shootings (broadly supported). But the respondents’ thoughts on what to do with police budgets were all over the map: some support for cuts, some for increases, and some for redirecting dollars to community-based alternatives.

There is much that this poll does not tell us, such as where there are regional differences, age/generational differences, or differences between urban, suburban, and rural areas. And, of course, none of the four racial groups listed are monoliths unto themselves: each has their own diversity of thought within their communities. Despite that, the report is twenty-seven fascinating pages of data on the current state of race relations in America, and it reminds us that skin color not only has no relation to a person’s dignity, potential, and rights, but it is also not a good predictor of their beliefs. 

Axios-Ipsos Hard Truth Civil Rights Poll

Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and publishes Seattle Paper Trail. Previously he worked for Microsoft, published Seattle City Council Insight, co-hosted the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast, and raised two daughters as a single dad. He serves on the Board of Directors of Woodland Park Zoo, where he also volunteers.

📸 Featured photo by Alex Garland.

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