Americans say there is a significant amount of discrimination and a growing feeling of racial tension in the United States, with sharp divides in how different groups view these issues, according to a new poll.
These findings come as the country is still visibly grappling with issues of race and equality, from the protests against how police use force to unrest on college campuses, the presidential campaign trail and recent fights over anti-discrimination statutes and religious freedom laws.
The two groups perceived to be facing the most discrimination are Muslims and gay and lesbian people, with seven in 10 Americans saying those groups are discriminated against “a lot”, the Public Religion Research Institute found in a poll released Tuesday.
Majorities also say that black people (63 percent) and Hispanic people (56 percent) face a lot of discrimination, while a majority of Americans (53 percent) say there is not a lot of discrimination against women.
Similarly, most Americans do not believe that evangelical Christians, Jews or atheists face a lot of discrimination, with about three in 10 Americans saying that they do.
Interestingly, while a quarter of Americans say that white Americans face a lot of discrimination, the poll found that more than four in 10 Americans say that discrimination against white people is as big an issue as discrimination against black people or other minorities. (Half of white Americans feel it is as big of an issue, while 29 percent of Hispanic Americans and 25 percent of black Americans agree.)
All told, more than a third of Americans say racial tensions are a major problem in their community, a number that has doubled in recent years, the poll found.
The recent protests against how police use force — spurred by the high-profile deaths of black men and boys in New York City, Baltimore, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. — have pushed the issue into the national consciousness repeatedly since last year, but the public remains divided on the topic.
More than half of Americans (53 percent) say these deaths are isolated, rather than part of a broader pattern, pointing again to the yawning gap between different groups and how they perceive deaths at the hands of police officers. While 65 percent of white Americans say the deaths are isolated episodes, 15 percent of black Americans agree. Four out of five black Americans say these point to a broader trend in police treatment, more than double the number of white Americans who feel that way.
Overall, a majority of Americans (62 percent) say they have a great deal or some confidence in the criminal justice system. But, again, there are sizable gaps in the perceived fairness of the system.
A majority of Americans — 57 percent — do not think that police officers treat white people the same way they treat black people or other minorities. White people are almost evenly split in how they view this, while big majorities of black (84 percent) and Hispanic (73 percent) Americans say the treatment is not the same.
When it comes to the death penalty, a majority of Americans (53 percent) say that a black person is more likely than a white person to be sentenced to death for the same crime. This majority is largely fueled by black Americans and Hispanic Americans, majorities of whom feel this way, while less than half of white people agree with this sentiment.