Evaluating Progress for Racial Equality

Few Americans say there has been significant progress over the last 50 years in achieving equal treatment for African Americans. Black Americans are more pessimistic than optimistic that progress will be made over the next five years when it comes to voting rights, policing, and the justice system.

March 15, 2022

Most Americans say more work needs to be done to achieve equal treatment of African Americans in various areas of society. Yet, few are optimistic that progress will be made in the near future.

Equality concerns are especially acute when it comes to policing and criminal justice. Only about a quarter of Americans see significant progress over the last 50 years in achieving equal treatment in dealings with the police and criminal justice system for African Americans. Black Americans are more pessimistic than optimistic that more progress will be made over the next five years.

In general, Black Americans have become slightly more positive about how many goals from the civil rights movement have been reached, with 17% saying all or most goals have been achieved, up from 8% four years ago.  In 2018 and 2022, about a third of white Americans said all or most objectives of the 1960s civil rights efforts had been accomplished.

However, Black Americans are not any more positive about more recent progress over the past five years than they were in 2018.  In 2018, 28% of Black respondents said things had gotten better for African Americans in last five years and 46% said things have gotten worse, nearly the same as in the latest survey.  

Among white respondents, 43% say things have improved, up from 37% in 2018.

Further, few Black Americans believe there has been a great deal or a lot of progress made in achieving equal treatment for Black Americans in several specific areas of American society in the past 50 years. These perceptions are very similar to 2018 when the question was last asked.

Looking ahead, both Black and white Americans feel more work needs to be done in order to realize equal treatment for African Americans in these parts of society. But a large majority of Black respondents say there needs to be a lot of effort, while only about 3 in 10 white respondents agree. 

The exception is treatment of African Americans by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.  About 45% of white respondents and two-thirds of Black Americans think a lot more needs to be done to achieve equal treatment.

Among those people who think more work needs to be done in order to achieve equal treatment for Black Americans, less than half are optimistic about reaching equality.  Neither Black nor white respodents are particularly optimistic about progress being made in the next five years, particularly in regards to fair treatment by the police or the criminal justice system. 

Last April, 61% of Americans approved of how Biden was handling race relations, but his approval on handling that issue has dropped to 48%.  Most Black Americans approve of how Biden is dealing with race, but that has declined since April as well. 

Soon after Biden’s 2021 inauguration, nearly half of Americans said his actions as president had been good for Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans, and about 4 in 10 said Biden’s presidency had been good for white Americans. 

In the latest poll, fewer Americans consider the Biden administration a positive force for these Americans.  About a third of the public thinks the Biden administration has been good for Black and white Americans. Fewer say it has had a positive effect on Hispanic or Asian Americans. 

While Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to say Biden’s actions have been good for these groups, fewer feel that way now compared to 2021.

The nationwide poll was conducted February 18-21, 2022 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,289 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.7 percentage points.

Black respondents were sampled at a higher rate than their proportion of the population for reasons of analysis. The overall margin of sampling error for the 301 completed interviews with Black adults is +/- 7.2 percentage points.

  • Suggested Citation: AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.  (March 2022).“Evaluating Progress for Racial Equality [https://apnorc.org/projects/evaluating-progress-for-racial-equality/]

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