AJC poll: Protests highlight American divide on race, racism

John Kirbymurdoch. left, and Alex Williams, both 16 and students at Morgan County High School, lead a peaceful, youth-led march in downtown Madison in June. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
John Kirbymurdoch. left, and Alex Williams, both 16 and students at Morgan County High School, lead a peaceful, youth-led march in downtown Madison in June. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Protests this summer over police brutality and systemic racism have exposed a cultural fault line that is evident in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s latest poll: Georgia voters who are people of color, younger and liberal are much more likely to support these demonstrations than those who are white, older and conservative.

For example, 65% of Black voters said they were more concerned about the actions by police against George Floyd and others than they were about protests that have turned violent. Among white respondents, 60% said violent protesting bothered them more.

Overall, 57% of voters polled said they support protests responding to the death of Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police. But the number declined to 42% of white people and 24% of Republicans.

ExploreInteractive: Complete poll results

A.J. LaGroon, a Black man who lives in Marietta, said those who criticized the tactics of some protesters were overlooking the troubling incidents that led to unrest. Demonstrations swept across the nation after Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis during an encounter over his alleged use of counterfeit money.

“People are upset things like this happen, but you have to get people’s attention,” LaGroon said of the looting and other property damage that occurred at some protests. “It wouldn’t happen if people weren’t getting killed.”

The AJC poll of 1,150 likely voters was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Maurice Hobson, a professor of African American studies at Georgia State University, said the poll shows some voters, particularly white men, are not interested in addressing long-standing issues with racism and police brutality.

“It just is clear that attitudes have not changed because there are those that are in power that benefit from oppression and they see nothing wrong with the system,” Hobson said.

The vast majority of the protests this summer were peaceful, but there is evidence that images of violence and property damage stuck in the minds of some voters and made them skeptical of the demonstrations. Several voters told the AJC they supported the message but worried it was diluted when protests turned destructive or violent.

“If you’re protesting, I think you should be doing it peacefully,” Columbia County stay-at-home mom Angela Aduri said. “I don’t think you should be burning down cities. I don’t think that’s what George Floyd would want.”

Voters also split over the question of whether they were confident that police treat white and Black people equally. Once again people of color, younger voters and liberals were much less likely to give law enforcement officers the benefit of the doubt on this question compared with white, conservative and older respondents.

“When officers go to school, they never learn to treat one person one way and one another,” said Dawson County resident Cissy Reeves, 74. “They do what they’re trained to do.”

This divide also could have implications for the presidential contest in Georgia. Almost 9 out of 10 Black voters polled said former Vice President Joe Biden would do a better job addressing racial inequality. But for white voters, 58% said they prefer President Donald Trump on race issues.

Overall, 51% of respondents said they trust Biden more on racial issues compared with 41% who said they trust Trump.

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AJC poll

The poll was conducted Sept. 11-20 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 1,150 likely voters and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Do you support or oppose the protests held around the country responding to the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police?

Strongly support — 40%

Somewhat support — 17%

Somewhat oppose — 10%

Strongly oppose — 29%

Don’t know — 4%

Which concerns you more, the actions of police against George Floyd and others, or protests that have turned violent?

Police — 37%

Protests — 46%

Both — 14%

Don’t know — 3%

How confident are you that the police in this country treat white and black people equally? Are you …

Very confident — 23%

Somewhat confident — 29%

Not so confident — 17%

Not at all confident — 29%

Don’t know — 2%

Regardless of how you intend to vote, who do you think would do a better job of addressing racial inequality?

Donald Trump — 41%

Joe Biden — 51%

Don’t know — 8%

On some questions, totals may not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Poll information: The survey was administered by the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia. The AJC-SPIA Poll was conducted September 11-20, 2020, and included a total of 1,150 likely general election voters in Georgia. The calculated margin of error for the total sample is +/-4.3 points at the 95% confidence level.

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