For all of President Trump’s Inauguration Day pledges to unify the nation despite an incredibly divisive campaign, he is presiding over a country in which a majority have a very pessimistic view of race relations — and many hold him at least partly accountable.
Nearly a year into Trump’s presidency, 6 in 10 Americans say his election has led to worse race relations in the United States, according to a new Pew report on the subject. And fewer than 1 in 10 — 8 percent — said Trump’s election has improved race relations, while 30 percent said it has not made a difference.
A year ago, shortly after his election, Americans seemed more optimistic about a Trump presidency: 25 percent of those surveyed expected race relations to improve. But 46 percent believed race relations would suffer under Trump after hearing him make comments widely considered racist and promote questionable policy ideas during his campaign.
Pessimism about race relations among Americans, however, predates Trump's election.
Pew says public views of race relations reached a high after former president Barack Obama's inauguration, when 66 percent of Americans said they were generally good. But public views plummeted in 2014 and 2015, following high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men. In May 2015, 61 percent of Americans considered race relations generally bad, with many blaming Obama for the level of divisiveness.
A majority — 56 percent — hold negative views on race relations today. Less than 40 percent say relations are generally favorable.
The Pew results are similar to those of a recent Washington Post-Survey Monkey poll that said an overwhelming majority, 82 percent, of Americans think that 2017 has been a bad year for race relations.
In that poll, Americans described the past year in ways that probably factor in their view of the state of race in the country. “Chaotic” was the most common one-word summation of the year, volunteered by 5 percent of adults in the late-November poll, The Post reported.
Other words making the Top 10 included: “crazy,” “challenging,” “tumultuous,” “horrendous,” “disappointing” and “disastrous.”
Americans grew sharply more concerned about racial issues after August’s white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, according to The Post's year-end analysis. White supremacists descended upon the Virginia college town to protest the removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Violence followed chants of “Jews will not replace us” before one white supremacist killed a counterprotester and injured more than a dozen when he allegedly rammed a car into the crowd.
In statements afterward, Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence.
A Post-ABC poll the week following the rally found that twice as many Americans disapproved as approved of Trump’s response — when he hesitated to single out the white-nationalist protesters, saying there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
A month later, the president called NFL players protesting racism “sons of b‑‑‑‑es” and suggested they should be fired for using their platform to draw attention to race issues in America, a practice polls showed that most Americans did not agree with.
The recent polls highlight an unsurprising theme: Individual views on race vary by the survey responders' own race: Four in 10 white Americans say race relations are generally good, according to the Pew study. Fewer than 3 in 10 — 28 percent — of black Americans feel the same way. And only a third of Hispanics consider race relations generally good.
And the proportion of African Americans who think race relations are getting worse — 51 percent — is 10 points higher than the proportion of whites who feel the same thing — 41 percent.
As Trump approaches the first anniversary of his ascension to the Oval Office, Americans are examining what he has done regarding an issue many consider one of the country's most pressing. The majority of his term still lies ahead. But if improving race relations is one of the areas in which a president is graded in his quest to make America great again, Trump is doing poorly by most standards.