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Is American society fair or discriminatory? Party, race may affect how you answer

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Jake Siolo holds a painting of Breonna Taylor during a rally to defund the police outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 15, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Back in the 1990s, I began asking a simple polling question that highlights a massive change in the way Americans view their country: Generally speaking, is American society fair and decent or is it unfair and discriminatory? In those long-ago days, voters overwhelmingly responded fair and decent, typically by a 2-to-1 margin.

Things are much different today. Polling I conducted this past weekend found that just 38% of voters nationwide believe our society is generally fair and decent. Nearly half (47%) believe our society is unfair and discriminatory. That’s consistent with data I cited a few weeks back showing that just 31% believe most Americans treat white and Black voters equally.

On this question, there is naturally a partisan divide. Sixty-two percent (62%) of Republicans say our society is fair and decent while 69% of Democrats take the opposite view. By a 45% to 31% margin, independent voters agree with the Democrats.

Not surprisingly, there is also a big racial divide on this question. White voters are evenly divided while 77% of Black voters say our society is unfair and discriminatory. Forty-nine percent (49%) of Hispanic voters agree.

This is a big deal in a country where the culture leads and politicians lag behind. Those who think that our society is fair and decent recognize that our nation is not perfect but tend to think only minor changes are needed. For those who believe society itself is unfair and discriminatory, the time has come to shake up the system and replace it with something better.

For some, the core issue may be income inequality. For most though, at this point in time, the core issue is racial inequality.

On the bright side, 76% of voters believe most Americans want to live in a society where white and Black Americans are treated equally. Getting 76% to agree on anything these days might be a good sign to some, but it’s disturbing that 13% believe it’s not true. And, another 11% aren’t sure. It’s especially troubling that 23% of Black voters — nearly 1 in 4 — don’t believe that most Americans want racial equality.

Think about that. Roughly 1-out-of-every-4 Black voters believe that most Americans reject the idea that we are all equally deserving of respect and justice.

For many, that rejection if found primarily in the Republican Party.

  • A majority of Black voters (54%) do not believe most members of the GOP want whites and Blacks treated equally. Forty-five percent (45%) of Hispanic voters share that view.
  • Among all voters, of all parties and races, just 49% believe most Republicans favor racial equality.
  • Thirty-three percent (33%) of voters nationwide believe President Donald Trump’s party actually opposes racial equality.

It is hard to imagine a more damning indictment of the GOP brand and messaging. I know that many Republican voters will say that’s not fair or true. Fair or not, those numbers help explain why President Trump is currently trailing Joe Biden by double digits in national polling (my last poll showed Biden leading 48% to 36%).

The question for Republicans is how to change those public perceptions. That’s a very significant challenge.

The challenge for the nation is much bigger — and the need to find answers far more urgent. How do we get to a point where our society can be considered fair and decent? 

There are no easy answers or 12-step programs to address this challenge. But there is a radical alternative that has been tried throughout American history with varying levels of success. It has not — and cannot — achieve perfection. But it can ensure that we leave this nation to the next generation a little better off than when we arrived.

That radical option is to change our society by once again striving to live up to America’s noble founding ideals — freedom, equality and self-governance.

Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun Is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”