How Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement changed white voters’ minds

click to enlarge Washington State Patrol Lt. Kris Schweigert, left, speaks with Renee White to help keep the peace with one group of demonstrators in front of the Spokane County Public Works building during a recent protest. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Washington State Patrol Lt. Kris Schweigert, left, speaks with Renee White to help keep the peace with one group of demonstrators in front of the Spokane County Public Works building during a recent protest.

By Astead W. Herndon and Dionne Searcey

A majority of American voters support the demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice that have roiled the country over the past month, embracing ideas about bias within the criminal justice system and the persistence of systemic racism that are central tenets of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to a new national poll of registered voters by The New York Times and Siena College.

Fifty-nine percent of voters, including 52% of white voters, believe the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis was “part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African Americans,” the poll found. The Black Lives Matter movement and the police had similar favorability ratings, with 44% of registered voters viewing the movement as “very favorable,” almost identical to the 43% rating for the police.

The numbers add to the mounting evidence that recent protests have significantly shifted public opinion on race, creating potential political allies for a movement that was, within the past decade, dismissed as fringe and divisive. It also highlights how President Donald Trump is increasingly out of touch with a country he is seeking to lead for a second term: While he has shown little sympathy for the protesters and their fight for racial justice, voters feel favorably toward the protests and their cause.


A survey of battleground states critical to November’s election largely mirrored the national results: 54% of voters in those states said the way the criminal justice system treats Black Americans was a bigger problem than the incidents of rioting seen during some demonstrations. Just 37% said rioting was a bigger problem, though Trump and his allies have tried to discredit the protests by focusing on some isolated incidents of violence.

Every age bracket said the use of force by the police against black Americans was a bigger problem than looting at demonstrations, however, support for Black Lives Matter gets more tepid among older voters, the polls found.

Though the poll overall shows former Vice President Joe Biden in a very strong position, especially on racial justice, and voters’ belief in his ability to unite a divided country, it also indicates how difficult a task that could be: More than 40% of white respondents agreed in some measure that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as other forms of discrimination.

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