As a Major U.S. Problem, Race Relations Sharply Rises

Justin McCarthy, Gallup, December 19, 2014

The percentage of Americans naming “race relations” or “racism” as the most important problem in the U.S. has climbed dramatically to 13%, the highest figure Gallup has recorded since a finding of 15% in 1992, in the midst of the Rodney King verdict. In November, race relations/racism was cited by 1% of the public as the most important problem.

Since 1992, the percentage of Americans saying race relations/racism is America’s biggest problem has ranged from 0% to 5%. The jump to 13% this month comes on the heels of national protests of police treatment of blacks in the wake of incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, among others.

Concurrently, Gallup has found recent drops in nonwhites’ confidence in police to protect them as well as nonwhites’ ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of police officers.

Nonwhites (22%) are more than twice as likely as whites (9%) to view racial issues as the nation’s largest problem.

Prior to this month and the spring of 1992, the last time race relations was a significant top-of-mind issue for Americans was in the 1950s and 1960s, when race was front and center of national policy discussions on civil rights. In 1963, more than half of Americans (52%) said race relations was the country’s biggest problem.


After barely registering with Americans as the top problem for two decades, race relations now matches the economy in Americans’ mentions of the country’s top problem, and is just slightly behind government (15%). Eight percent of Americans now identify unemployment as the nation’s greatest problem, down slightly from November.


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