Vice President Pence waves to fans Sunday before an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Last week, Pew Research released a survey that got at a question that I’ve had for some time: To what extent do racial tension and polarization correlate? We know polarization is high, and so are racial tensions. We know, too, that most Republicans are white and that most black Americans are Democrats (though most Democrats, too, are white). How strong is the relationship, then, between partisan and racial tension?

Pew asked Americans how they felt about a number of values-based questions ranging from views on immigrants to the nature of success in America. The pollsters found that the differences in responses between Democrats and Republicans was much wider than those between men and women, blacks and whites or people who did or didn’t regularly attend church services.


What’s more, that gap has been widening while the gaps among other groups have remained relatively the same.

The suggestion from that graph is that partisanship has increasingly permeated our nonpolitical lives, directly or indirectly. Take this point:

Most Republicans (65%) say they would rather live in a community where houses are larger and farther apart and where schools and shopping are not nearby. A majority of Democrats (61%) prefer smaller houses within walking distance of schools and shopping.

How does that gap emerge? In part because Democrats are more likely to live in urban areas. As partisanship overlays race, it also overlays things such as geography, because geography (like race) correlates strongly to politics.

Pew provided The Washington Post with another point of data that reinforces the broader point. If we look only at white respondents to the survey, the partisan gap is even wider. This suggests that among nonwhites, there’s less polarization along political lines. Among whites, the differences between Democrats and Republicans are stark.


It’s worth remembering that when considering things such as the protests in the NFL. On Monday, FiveThirtyEight summarized polling that shows a consistent racial split on the question of whether players’ protests during the national anthem are warranted. (FiveThirtyEight’s broader point was that how you ask that question makes a difference, so we’re doing something of a disservice in that summary.) The protests, of course, are meant to draw attention to racial inequality in the United States, an issue for which race is obviously inherent, so whites and blacks naturally view it differently.

FiveThirtyEight looked at several polls to make that point, including three from CBS-YouGov, HuffPost-YouGov and PBS NewsHour-Marist. In each case, whites were less supportive of the protests than black respondents. In each case, though, the split by party was wider.


This reinforces Pew’s initial findings.

But we loop back to the idea that the partisan split among whites is particularly significant. In August, The Post and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell polled Americans to get a sense of their attitudes about problems allegedly plaguing the NFL. For the most part, opinions of the game’s problems were uniform among white respondents regardless of party. A notable exception: The percentage of white Republican sports fans (and Republican-leaning independents) who said the protests were a problem was 84 percent. The percentage of white Democrats (and leaners) who said the same? Sixty-one percent.


The percentage of nonwhite respondents to this question in our poll was fairly small, so there’s a big margin of error. But white Democrats (and leaners) were much closer in their opinions about the protests to the opinions of nonwhites than they were to white Republicans.


This is one issue buried in the innumerable partisan issues in the United States today. It bolsters the broader point raised by Pew, though: Partisanship on this particular question is more divisive than race.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.