A new NPR poll underscores the often-sharp differences Americans have when it comes to race, discrimination and policing — but there has been a shift over the last year.



Americans have very different views when it comes to race, discrimination and trusting the police. A new poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist details just how deep these divides are. The survey results come as we approach the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis. A former police officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of Floyd's murder.

NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here to talk about all this. Hi, Domenico.


MARTIN: So on its face, learning that Americans are divided when it comes to race and the police, this is something that we sort of know intuitively. But what did the survey really bring to the fore for you?

MONTANARO: Yeah, you know, there were usual gaps when it comes to political leanings and some, you know, usual findings when it comes to race. But let's take whether people had personal experience with discrimination or feel that they'd been treated unfairly because of their race. You know, just 15% of whites said that's happened to them, but 61% of African Americans said it has, so you can see just how big that gap is of understanding; of Latinos, it was 39%. When it came to policing, whites, Latinos and Republicans had far more confidence than Black Americans in their ability to gain the trust of residents in their communities.

And on whether police treat African Americans more harshly than whites, only a quarter of whites thought so, but most Black Americans did. It was also interesting that almost 9 in 10 respondents said they're comfortable talking about race with friends and family, but only two-thirds said they actually have those talks, and the groups who are most likely to do so lean Democratic.

MARTIN: So we mentioned at the top that this survey comes as we anticipate marking one year since George Floyd's killing. Did the survey ask explicitly about how people witnessed or observed his murder and the aftermath?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Largely there was broad agreement. Three-quarters of respondents thought that the guilty verdict was the right one. But we do see a bit of a partisan gap here. About half of Republicans and Trump supporters think it was either the wrong decision or they're not sure. Remember, though, this was a unanimous jury decision, and not everything is filtered through politics, especially in the court of law, or shouldn't be. Floyd's killing, you know, has sparked calls for police reform. The survey finds broad support, for example, reforming police use-of-force policies - again, though, sharp divide along party lines. Democrats and independents said the policy should be reformed, but only a third of Republicans thought so. One policy area where there was near-universal support, and this could be for lots of their own reasons, was for police wearing body cameras.

MARTIN: You know, you can hear all of this, and you can start to feel hopeless about the state...


MARTIN: ...Of America. Was there anything optimistic in the survey results, Domenico?

MONTANARO: Yeah, there was some. I mean, most said that they believe, for future generations, for example, that race relations will be better than they are now. Fewer people than we've seen in the past six years are saying race relations in the country are - have gotten worse. Of course, there's a lot of politics wrapped up in that. For a lot of people, just simply that switch from Trump to Biden made a huge difference.

And speaking of Biden, slim majority approves overall of how he's handling race relations. That's about where his overall job approval rating has been. But certainly, he has got lots of challenges on this, especially in trying to press ahead for a deal on police reform. You know, Biden's going to have a lot of challenges to come on some foreign policy issues, as we've seen, some domestic things, like those rising gas prices, et cetera. But so far, his handling of COVID has kept him above 50%.

MARTIN: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

MARTIN: And just a note, for more on that poll, you can see Domenico's full story at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.