Poll: Most Americans Think Their Own Group Faces Discrimination

Oct 24, 2017
Originally published on October 27, 2017 2:48 pm

Majorities in many ethnic, identity and racial groups in America believe that discrimination exists against their own group, across many areas of people's daily lives, according to a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The poll asked a wide range of questions about where Americans experience discrimination — from the workplace to the doctor's office — and people's perception of it. The groups polled include whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and LGBTQ adults.

White Americans are among those who feel their group is discriminated against, with 55 percent saying discrimination exists against whites in the U.S. today.

These results are part of a large national statistically representative survey of 3,453 adults from Jan. 26 to Apr. 9.

We will be releasing the full results of the poll over the next several weeks, starting Tuesday with results from the survey of African-Americans. We will highlight and analyze the particular acts of discrimination that each group experiences.

The African-American results, in 802 adults, provide insight into the historically high levels of discrimination blacks have faced since arriving in America. These experiences happen across a broad range of situations: interacting with police; applying for jobs or seeking promotions; trying to rent an apartment or buy a home; or going to a doctor or health clinic.

The findings on African-Americans have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

The perceptions of discrimination are not primarily based in actions by institutions, as some might expect. "Most African-Americans believe that discrimination is due to the attitudes of individuals that they interact with," says Robert Blendon, the poll's director and professor of policy and political analysis at the Harvard Chan School. "A smaller share believes it's actually government or institutional policies."

Fear of discrimination, possibly triggered by past encounters, plays out in different ways. We found that this fear significantly influences people's decisions whether to seek medical care, to call the police when in need, and even whether to drive or attend social events. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of African-Americans polled said they have personally experienced racial discrimination when going to the doctor or a health clinic, with 22 percent avoiding care out of fear of discrimination.

"If someone is avoiding seeking medical care out of fear of discrimination, they're at risk of going undiagnosed for serious conditions," says Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We know that repeated stress from discrimination and racism can actually make some of those conditions more likely in the first place and shorten lives."

And repeated stress comes from many kinds of discrimination and the fear it engenders. Numerous studies have shown that African-Americans are more likely to be stopped by police compared with other racial groups. In the poll, 60 percent of people told us that they or a family member have been unfairly stopped or mistreated by police because they are black.

That has consequences for them personally and across society — 31 percent of poll respondents say fear of discrimination has led them to avoid calling the police when in need. And 61 percent say police are more likely to use force on a person who is African-American than on a white person in the same situation.

Where people live can make a big difference, too. Our survey found that 64 percent of blacks live in non-majority-black areas. For these people, perceptions of local discrimination, opportunity, police and government and community environment were generally better when compared with majority-black areas, sometimes by wide margins.

Our poll found substantial numbers of African-Americans who say they have been slurred or have been the target of insensitive or offensive comments or negative assumptions. A story later in our series will explore the split by income and gender in the chart below.

Persistently higher premature death rates in blacks compared with whites was one of the issues that inspired this poll and series. The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that gap at 16 percent, even though it has narrowed since 1999, when death rates for blacks from all causes were 33 percent higher than whites.

Many factors play into the gap, including a considerable drop in crime rates involving African-Americans over that period and improved access to medical care for many people. What we're trying to explore with our "You, Me and Them" series and poll is how the stress-inducing experiences of discrimination in everyday life affect health.

"Over 200 black people die prematurely every single day in America, in part because of racism in society," says David Williams, a professor of public health at the Harvard Chan School who has pioneered work in the field of racial disparities in health care. "This poll helps us see where we need to take action to address the problem."

The poll was conducted in the first quarter of 2017. A final report discussing major highlights from the series will be released in December.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


OK. Brakkton's story grows out of a survey that comes from NPR News, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The survey director was Robert Blendon, who says the aim here was to capture stories like the one we just heard from a diverse field of 3,500 participants.

ROBERT BLENDON: We covered not only racial and ethnic groups - African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and, quite unusually, whites - but also gender - men, women and LGBTQ.

INSKEEP: Now, the point here wasn't to survey people's opinions - what do you think about racism? It was to understand how Americans say they themselves experienced discrimination.

BLENDON: We asked you about your life experience with work, police, the courts, housing, health care, college, voting, and then there are all types of personal interaction where people are really harassed, insulted, just treated totally inappropriately. So we had the sort of institutional issues, when I'm seeking housing or a job, but then we really asked you if you faced harassment, if people slurring, you if people inappropriately said that you were unable to do things because of your race or ethnic background.

INSKEEP: So those were the questions, and the answers revealed that Americans of all races have something in common.

BLENDON: What we found is the majority of almost all ethnic and racial groups, including white Americans, which is quite a surprise, feel that today they face discrimination based on their own background. Most believe that it's due to attitudes of individuals that they interact with, with a smaller share believing it's actually government or institutional policies.

INSKEEP: Fifty-five percent of white people surveyed said that whites in America face discrimination. Blendon says there are two main places where they report seeing unfair treatment.

BLENDON: Employment, and the sense that they had that they were often discriminated against in being hired because they were white. And college admissions, where there was a sense of those who had applied for college who were white, a significant share of them felt that they had faced some discrimination in admission based on their race.

INSKEEP: Now, to be clear, the number of white people who said discrimination has happened to them personally was lower, only about 1 in 5 say they experienced discrimination when applying for jobs, for example. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.