Posted on October 19, 2021

When It Comes to Ideas About Race, the Biggest Gap Isn’t Between Whites and Non-Whites

Mya Jaradat, Deseret News, October 12, 2021

Layla Kaiksow and her two children, ages 9 and 12, sometimes encounter racist graffiti along the walking trails near their home outside of Houston. On one occasion, Kaiksow and her children, who are Muslim, faced a “larger than life” swastika on a concrete-lined embankment alongside their path.

She returned to the site with the principal of a neighborhood school. Together, along with Kaiksow’s two children, they painted over the offensive graffiti.

It’s just one of the many ways Kaiksow tackles the sensitive issues of racial and ethnic discrimination — topics that are a constant conversation in the family home.

According to findings of the latest American Family Survey, released Tuesday in Washington, D.C., by the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, Kaiksow isn’t alone in her attempts to discuss racism and discrimination with her children. Kaiksow does, however, represent a certain racial and political demographic — white Democrats — and an unexpected finding.

“The group where we see the biggest divide is white Americans and the biggest divide is across parties,” said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and a political science professor at Brigham Young University. That is, the greatest disparities in attitudes and conversations about discrimination were not between white Americans and Black Americans but between white Democrats and white Republicans.

The American Family Survey, now in its seventh year, is an annual nationally representative study that looks at how families live, love and prosper or struggle amid current events. This year, YouGov fielded the survey of 3,000 adults June 25 to July 8, just before COVID’s delta variant became widespread and prior to the start of the school year. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Across the board, Americans have different perceptions about the obstacles faced by families of color. Just over half of white Americans agreed with the statement “Black families face obstacles that white families do not” and nearly half say that Hispanic and Asian families also contend with unique challenges. But Black and Hispanic Americans were even more likely to agree with the same statements than their white counterparts

And when the data is broken down along party lines, sharp differences between white Americans appear.

When asked whether Black families face obstacles that white families don’t, 88% of white Democrats agreed with the statement as compared with only 24% of white Republicans. The discussions about race white Americans have in their homes are also radically different, depending on party affiliation.

In the wake of widely reported deaths of Black Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year at the hands of police, the American Family Survey researchers used questions about policing as one way to get at the larger conversation about race.


The survey found these conversations are happening more in the homes of white Democrats than nonwhite Democrats. And, while 69% of white Democrats report discussing racial discrimination and policing with their families, only 21% of white Republicans report doing so.

“White Democrats are especially concerned about this issue and eager to lean into it in a way that we certainly don’t find among white Republicans,” said Karpowitz.


Something else also stood out in the data to Karpowitz. “The other thing that just really jumps off the page for me is how few people are having substantial positive interactions across lines of race, say something like arranging a playdate with a family of another race — it’s just very rare,” said Karpowitz. “And most Americans, especially at lower and middle income levels, are not having any of these sorts of interactions. We didn’t ask about last month or last year, we asked about the last five years: Have you done this even once in the last five years?”