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Poll: 53 percent of Americans say it’s ‘never appropriate’ to kneel during the national anthem

New England Patriots players hold hands and kneel during the national anthem before the start of their game against the Houston Texans last September. Photo by JOHN CETRINO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
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A slight majority of Americans say it’s never appropriate to kneel during the national anthem in protest according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, a sign that player protests draw persistently passionate reactions as the National Football League adopts a new policy to discourage demonstrations.

The NFL announced Wednesday that teams could be fined if players do not stand while the national anthem is played before games next season, though individual teams could decide whether to punish players individually. The new policy also gave players the option to remain in the locker room during the Star Spangled Banner.

Overall, 42 percent of U.S. adults said it is sometimes appropriate to protest by kneeling during the national anthem while 53 percent said it is “never appropriate” in the Post-Kaiser survey conducted in January and February.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sought to protest police brutality and discrimination against African Americans broadly by kneeling during national anthems in 2016, but the tactic faced criticism as being unpatriotic and disrespectful of veterans. No team signed Kaepernick to its roster last year, but other players showed solidarity by kneeling in his wake, drawing sharp criticism from President Trump that in-turn led to momentary solidarity between owners and players in honoring free speech.

Opinions are deeply divided along partisan, racial and ethnic lines. Fully 86 percent of Republicans said it’s never appropriate to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest. That drops down to just about half of independents (51 percent) and less than 3 in 10 Democrats (29 percent) who said the same; 66 percent of Democrats said protesting the anthem is sometimes appropriate.

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By a 69 percent to 22 percent margin, more African Americans said protests of the national anthem were acceptable than not. Yet over half of white (58 percent) and Hispanic adults (54 percent) said anthem protests are never appropriate. Whites are internally divided along partisan lines: 87 percent of white Republicans said it is never appropriate to kneel during the national anthem, compared with 24 percent of white Democrats.

The poll finds older and younger Americans also differ significantly on the issue. Among adults ages 50 and older, 63 percent say kneeling during the national anthem is never appropriate, compared with 50 percent among those ages 30-49 and 38 percent of people ages 18-29. Among this youngest group, a 57 percent majority say anthem protests are appropriate.

Opinions of anthem protests were also different among the 1 in 5 Americans who attended a political rally or protest in the previous two years. More than 6 in 10 of rallygoers said it is appropriate to kneel in protest during the national anthem, compared with 37 percent of people who did not attend rallies. There were deep partisan divisions within this group, though among both independents and Democrats, rallygoers were more likely to say anthem protests were appropriate than people who did not attend rallies themselves.

National polls asking specifically about NFL protests have found a public divided over whether they should be allowed. In January, a Marist College poll found 47 percent of Americans saying players playing in the Super Bowl should be required to stand while 48 percent say they should be allowed to kneel.

Despite sizable opposition over protesting the national anthem, the Post-Kaiser poll found Americans were even more critical of other forms of political protest that have been criticized in recent years. Roughly 8 in 10 (81 percent) said it’s never appropriate to burn the American flag, for instance and 84 percent said the same about blocking cars from driving on roads or highways. Three-quarters said it is inappropriate to protest by disrupting another group’s rally.

The Post-Kaiser poll was conducted Jan. 24 to Feb. 22, 2018 among a random sample of 1,850 adults ages 18 and older living in the U.S.; overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Sample sizes for demographic subgroups reported range from 138 for African Americans to 1,387 for whites, and carry a larger margin of error.