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Race & Reality in America
01:32 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN/KFF poll examines issues relating to race, ethnicity in America

Americans more likely to consider racism a big problem today than they were 20 years ago, poll shows

Large numbers of blacks, Hispanics say they have faced discrimination in past 30 days

CNN  — 

Few issues have as fraught a history as race in America. The country’s recent history on race includes highs such as the election of the country’s first black president and heartbreaking lows such as the shooting deaths of nine people at a black church, allegedly by a white supremacist aiming to start a race war.

CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation partnered to survey Americans on issues relating to race and ethnicity. The poll explores how things have changed in the last 20 years and what race means now. The survey also examines how different groups of Americans experience race day-to-day, and what they think about racism and the racial divisions that are so pervasive in our economic and political lives.

1. Americans are more likely to consider racism a big problem today than they were 20 years ago

Here are five key findings from the CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation survey on race and reality.

Overall, 49% of Americans in the poll say racism is a big problem in the country, up from 28% four years ago. It’s also more than the 41% who said so 20 years ago, shortly after the Million Man March on the nation’s capital.

In the new poll, the percent of people who see racism as a big problem is higher among racial and ethnic minorities than it is among whites – 66% of blacks and 64% of Hispanics call it a big problem, compared to 43% of whites.

Women, particularly white and Hispanic women, are more apt to consider racism a problem than are men. And among whites, there’s a broad political divide, with 56% of white Democrats calling it a big problem compared with 32% of white Republicans.

But the age gaps that one might expect from an America whose demographics are shifting generationally do not materialize. Younger whites are about as likely as older whites to consider racism a big problem, and younger people of color are just as likely as their older peers to say it’s a big problem.

2. The percentage who see racial tensions increasing has grown as well

Almost two-thirds of Americans say racial tensions have increased in America in the last 10 years, much higher than the 29% who said so in 2001 and the 47% who felt that way in 1995. On this issue, there is agreement across racial and ethnic groups, with majorities of whites (67%), blacks (65%) and Hispanics (55%) all feeling tensions have grown in the last decade.

That view is shared among young and old, male and female, Democrat and Republican, urban, suburban and rural. About the only statistically meaningful difference is that white conservatives are most likely to say tensions have grown (75%) in the last 10 years.

3. White America lives a largely segregated life

At home, when socializing, and at work, white Americans report their lives are mostly spent around others of the same race. About seven in 10 whites say they live (69%) or socialize with (68%) people who are mostly of the same race as them, and six in 10 employed whites have co-workers who are mostly other white people (60%). Hispanics and blacks are more apt to report more diverse neighborhoods, social circles and workplaces.

Non-Hispanic whites make up a majority of the American public, so that gap isn’t entirely a surprise. But what’s most notable about these results is that there’s no significant difference between younger whites (18-45) and older whites (45-64) who say they socialize with, work with or live around people who are all/mostly the same race as them. Senior whites, however, are a different story. Those 65 and older are more likely than their younger counterparts to say they live near or socialize with those of the same race.

Younger blacks and Hispanics, however, are far more likely to say they have diverse social circles and neighborhoods.

4. Large numbers of black and Hispanic Americans say they have been treated unfairly in the last 30 days

Overall, about three-quarters of Americans say they think African-Americans (77%) or Hispanic-Americans (74%) face at least some discrimination in society today.

The poll results provide a measure of just how many people have faced what they consider to be unfair treatment on account of their race or ethnicity in everyday situations – at work, while shopping, at restaurants or the movies, while seeking health care or in dealings with police.

Fifty-three percent of blacks report experiencing one of those types of unfair treatment in the last 30 days, as did 36% of Hispanics. Among whites, 15% say they’ve dealt with such unfair treatment.

More blacks say they experienced unfair treatment while shopping than in any of the five scenarios tested – 33% reported an occasion like that. And blacks were least likely to report unfair treatment when seeking health care (12%). About a quarter of blacks say they experienced unfair treatment at work or in a restaurant, bar, theater or other entertainment venue.

In dealing with police specifically, approximately one in five African-Americans and one in six Hispanics say they’ve faced unfair treatment in the last 30 days, compared with 3% – or one in 30 – among whites.

5. African-Americans bear the bulk of the burden of incarceration in America

A majority of African-Americans say they or a close friend or family member have been incarcerated (55%), significantly higher than the share among whites (36%) or Hispanics (39%).

For whites, the share saying they have been incarcerated themselves or have a close relationship with someone who has drops with education. Thirty percent of whites with college degrees say they, a family member or close friend have been incarcerated, compared with 40% among whites who do not have college degrees. For African-Americans and Hispanics, the numbers are similar across educational lines.

The percentage of blacks who say they or someone they know have been incarcerated is particularly high among those who live in urban areas (60% vs. 48% among those who live in the suburbs or rural areas) and among younger African-Americans (62% among those age 18-34, 55% among those age 35-64 compared with 35% among black seniors).

The CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll was conducted August 25-October 3, 2015, among a random national sample of 1,951 adults, including 501 black and 500 Hispanic respondents. Results for all groups have been adjusted to reflect their actual national distribution. Interviews were conducted on conventional telephones and cell phones, in English and Spanish, by SSRS of Media, Pennsylvania. This poll was jointly developed and analyzed by CNN and staff at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; for results based on African-Americans or Hispanics it is plus or minus 6 percentage points.