Poll: Race Relations Improving

Blacks and whites are breaking bread in record numbers, and public views of race relations have improved markedly in recent years.

But there's still a huge disconnect between the races in perceptions of how blacks are treated in local communities, an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll found.

For most white Americans, the view is one of equality: At least eight in 10 whites think blacks in their communities have an equal chance to get jobs for which they're qualified, housing they can afford, fair treatment from merchants and quality schools for their kids. Two-thirds of whites also think blacks get equal treatment from the police.

But black Americans differ — and by huge margins. Fewer than half of blacks think they have an equal shot at housing in their community, or get equal treatment from local merchants. Fewer still — 39 percent — think blacks have an equal chance at jobs. And just 28 percent think blacks receive equal treatment from the police in their community.

In one area, public education, majorities of whites and blacks alike see equal opportunity, but here, too, the gap is vast. Ninety-two percent of whites think black children in their communities have an equal chance to attend a good public school; 58 percent of blacks agree.

This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted to accompany a special Nightline town meeting in Jasper, Texas, where a black man was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death in a 1998 hate crime. The program, "Two Towns of Jasper," airs Thursday at 11:35 p.m. ET.

All Groups Reflect Improving View of Race Relations

Despite these differing perceptions, the poll includes positive results on the state of race relations, on personal, local and national levels. Most broadly, 54 percent of whites think race relations in this country are good, and 44 percent of blacks agree. While surely these could be better, each is up by about 20 points from a 1997 ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll.

Ratings are more positive locally. Eighty percent of whites, and 73 percent of blacks, say race relations in their own communities are good or even "excellent." (Sixty-eight percent of Americans describe their community as mixed racially; 29 percent say it's mostly white.)

Another promising sign is the continued gain in social contact between the races. The number of whites who say they have a fairly close friend who's black has grown from 54 percent in 1981 to 75 percent now. And 83 percent of blacks say they have a white friend, stable in recent years but up from 69 percent 22 years ago.

Moreover, for the first time in polls since 1973, a majority of Americans, 54 percent, now say they've brought someone of the opposite race home for dinner in recent years — a number that's also grown steadily, from just 20 percent 30 years ago. (Blacks were asked if they'd had a white person over; nonblacks were asked if they'd had a black person to dinner.)

But clearly, this increased social contact hasn't erased perceptions — or experience — of racial tolerance. Broadly, 40 percent of whites think blacks in their community experience racial discrimination; but among blacks, 58 percent say so. Even more blacks, 64 percent, personally have felt at some time they were being discriminated against because of their race. And 63 percent of other nonwhites say the same. Just about a third as many whites, 22 percent, have experienced racial discrimination.

This poll also measures personal experience of discrimination among blacks. Most prevalent is being made to feel unwelcome by a sales clerk or shopkeeper because of your race: Sixty-one percent of blacks say they've personally experienced this. Four in 10 say they've been stopped by the police just because of their race; one-third, denied a job; a quarter, denied housing. Add in the experience of close friends or family members, and these numbers jump.

Different Opinions Among Black Men and Black Women

There's one very striking difference in these experiences between black men and black women — being stopped by the police "just because of your race." Sixty-five percent of black men say it's happened to them, compared to 22 percent of black women.

Not surprisingly, given that experience, black men are 18 points more likely than black women to say that blacks don't get equal treatment to whites from the police in their community. However, majorities of both groups — 61 percent of black women, and 79 percent of black men — say this is the case. Black men also are 14 points less likely to rate race relations in the nation positively — 50 percent of black women do so, compared to 36 percent of black men.

Methodology

This ABNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 16-20 among a random national sample of 1,133 adults, including an oversample of 211 blacks. The results have a three-point error margin for the full sample, 6.5 points for blacks. Field work was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.