A little guessing game. The graphic above shows results from an ongoing public opinion poll (coincidentally, conducted by our neighbors at NORC) tracking the growing divergence of perspective between Democrats and Republicans over the last 20 years. You can see that Republican opinion on this question has stayed pretty steady, while Democratic agreement with the test assertion has declined over the same period. What do you imagine the question was? I’ll give you a minute…
Here’s the prompt: “On average, blacks have worse jobs, income and housing than white people. Do you think those differences are because most blacks just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?”
That’s pretty grim. More than half of Republicans (and a surprising number of Democrats) are holding onto this awful racial stereotype. What’s more, the survey covers a few of the other top hits of white supremacy: intelligence, laziness, opposition to interracial marriage, etc. All show a continuing (or growing) gap, as Republicans seem to lag behind Democrats amid an overall trend to abandon more retrograde views on race. The message to take from this survey is certainly not that Republicans are racists and Democrats aren’t (it could even be that Dems are simply more sensitive about sharing their non-PC views with surveyors). To me, the fact that poor people have to battle these same perceptions illustrates just how interwoven race and class are in America. You just can’t address one without the other.
And, while I don’t think Democrats deserve a victory lap, we should not ignore the fact that many of these stereotypes are also the (sub)text of the GOP’s constant refrain of individual responsibility and eliminating the ‘culture of dependence.’ I think we can all hear that dog whistle loud and clear.