National poll critical of Trump’s handling of protests, divided over BLM

A recent Monmouth University poll finds the nation more divided under the leadership of President Donald Trump, as well as divided opinions over the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Republicans, the poll found, have turned negative, while non-Republicans have held firm in their support of the movement sparked by the death of George Floyd and other incidents involving racial justice. The poll finds most Americans are hopeful about the future of race relations even though most say Trump has made the current situation worse.

The public is divided about the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the poll, which was released July 8 and was conducted by telephone from June 26-30 with 867 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of 3.3%.

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“The Black Lives Matter movement has taken center stage in the current debate,” said Patrick Murray, polling institute director. “Currently, 71% of Americans agree and just 26% disagree BLM has brought attention to real racial disparities in America.

“Four years ago, a smaller majority of 58% agreed with this view, while 35% disagreed,” he said. “Still, more people say BLM has made racial issues worse — 38% — rather than better, 26%, although this gap has narrowed since 2016 when it stood at 48% worse to 10% better.”

Another 32% say BLM has not really impacted racial issues either way (36% in 2016).

Poll respondents were also critical of Trump’s handling of the protests. When asked if Trump’s handling of the protests has made the current situation better or worse, 20% said better, 62% said worse, 11% said no impact and 7% didn’t know.

“The events of late May sparked a reckoning with racial discrimination for many non-Republicans, but Republican opinion swung in the opposite direction since the protests started,” said Murray. “It almost seems that even acknowledging the existence of racial inequity can be seen as disloyalty to the party or the president.”

Most poll respondents — 66% — said the nation has become more divided since Trump took office, while 13% said more united, 17% said no change and 4% didn’t know.

The shift in public opinion on racial discrimination during the last month appears to be driven almost entirely by partisanship, Murray said. Among self-identified Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party, 40% say discrimination is a big problem. The poll also found that 35% of Republicans say racial discrimination is not a problem.

Currently, 67% of the public says racial and ethnic discrimination in the U.S. is a big problem, while 17% say it is not a problem at all. Another 14% say discrimination is a problem but not a big one. This marks a slight shift in opinion from the beginning of June, when 76% said discrimination was a big problem and only 7% said it was not a problem at all.

Recent protests have also involved calls to "Defund the Police." Most Americans (77%) believe those who use that phrase really just want to change the way police departments operate. Only 18% believe that people who use this phrase actually want to get rid of police departments.

The poll also found about half (51%) of the public believes that police officers are no more or less likely to exhibit racism compared with other groups in the country. Another 28% say there is more racism among the police, and 14% say there is less compared with other groups.

“Most Americans see ‘Defund the Police’ as more of a general statement of purpose rather than an actual policy demand, at least for now,” said Murray.

Just over half of the public feels that race relations in the U.S. will improve (21% a lot and 31% a little) as a result of the movement that has engulfed the country since late May.

Just 18% say race relations will get worse, and 26% say nothing will really change.

Republicans and independents who lean Republican (33%) are less likely than other Americans — whether they are white (67%), Black (64%), or from another racial or ethnic group (64%) — to believe that race relations will improve because of recent events.

Most Americans are hopeful about the future of race relations, although only 26% say they are very hopeful, while 56% are somewhat hopeful.

For context, 42% of adults in the current Monmouth poll identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. This includes about half of white Americans, 1 in 10 who are Black, 3 in 10 who are Hispanic, and 4 in 10 who are Asian or of another ethnic group.

A little over half of non-Republicans are white, while just under 1 in 5 are Black and just under 1 in 5 are Hispanic.