There is a significant body of work exploring public opinion of race relations, experiences with discrimination, differences between races in how they understand this issue, and so on. Yet most research largely seeks to understand the “snapshot” of public opinion — where opinion currently stands and the variables that influence a particular view — rather than how to change opinion.

Still, this overview provides important insights about how people understand the nature of the problem. Implicitly, discrimination is often viewed as being about relationships and personal interactions, not systemic bias or policy. Disparities can easily be blamed on lack of personal ambition or hard work. The role of systems and structures has to become more apparent if we hope to spark broad-based support for policy change.

Importantly, issue conversations often trigger competition between races, as though success is zero-sum and what is “given” to one group is “taken” from another. Instead, we need to find communications strategies that join people in common purpose and shared fate, while not erasing race in the process.

Specifically, communicators should consider the following  recommendations.

Conduct new research and message testing, designed with precise, short-, mid-, and long-term goals in mind. The limited message development that has been done on these issues tends to lie at either end of a continuum. Either it is done in service of a narrow goal (e.g., pass “bill X”) or a vague, ill-defined goal (e.g., talk about race). Or,  it has not yet proven its ability to create change. We  need to define specific goals relevant to improving the achievement of black males to which we can hold our strategy accountable.

Sharpen objectives and strategies for different audiences. Clearly this research suggests different starting  points  for  the  conversation  with  different  racial  groups. Black Americans  are  far  more  likely to see the systemic flaws that lead to disparities and support government action (though the personal responsibility  perspective  is  gaining  ground),  while few white  Americans  even  recognize  the  breadth and severity of traditional  discrimination,  let  alone  institutional  racism. What  is  the  call  to  action  for core, mobilizable audiences within communities of color? What call to action makes sense for opinion influencers in white communities? These and similar questions must be asked and focused on.

Develop frame flips and unifying narratives. The old storylines have limited ability to gain traction. This analysis points to the need for a frame  flip  and  a  unifying  narrative  to  break  through  deeply entrenched views on these issues. Specifically, new framing on this issue needs to:

  • Mend the in-group/out-group cycle and establish a sense of “us.”
  • Reinforce shared fate and interdependence.
  • Avoid the competitive and zero-sum assumptions that are so prevalent in public perceptions of these issues.
  • Look for ways to characterize the unique challenges facing black men and solutions to the challenges without inadvertently implying that other groups will have less opportunity, e.g., “breaking down obstacles” instead of “addressing disparities.”
  • Emphasize effective solutions. Focus on structures, systems, and policies, not personal offenses.
  • Do not lose sight of or avoid race and racial disparities in the conversation.

Engage audiences around specific issue categories. Harmonize the broad overarching narrative about black male achievement with specific issue categories that most matter to black men – jobs and income, education, and criminal justice. Gains in image and perceptions matter  most when they lead to real gains in closing disparities in these areas.

Works Cited

Allstate/National Journal (2011). Heartland Monitor Poll IX, N=1000 telephone interviews with adults nationally, with oversamples of African-Americans (n=305), Hispanics (n=304), and Asians (n=110). May 18-22, 2011. pdf.

American National Election Studies (2008). Time Series Study, N= 2,099 – 2,312 adults nationally.

Amodio, David M. (2009). Intergroup anxiety effects on the control of racial stereotypes: A psychoneuroendocrine analysis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45,  60-67.

Aubrun, Axel, Andrew Brown and Joseph Grady (2006). Moving Beyond Entrenched Thinking About Race: The Homeowner/Stakeholder Effect. The FrameWorks  Institute.

Black Youth Project, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago (2005). “The Attitudes and Behavior of Young Black Americans: Research Summary.” http://www-

Bobo, Lawrence, and Vincent L. Hutchings (1996). Perceptions of Racial Group Competition: Extending Blumer’s Theory of Group Position to a Multiracial Social Context. 61 American Sociological Review, 951, 956. percent20documents/ PRacial.pdf.

Davey, Lynn (2009). “Strategies for Framing Racial Disparities: A FrameWorks Institute Message Brief.” Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute. resources/pdf/disparitiesmessagebrief.pdf.

Diuguid, Lewis and Adrienne Rivers (2000). “The media and the black response.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 569, 120-134.

Dyck, Joshua J., Laura S. Hussey (2008). The End of Welfare as We Know It? Durable Attitudes in a Changing Information Environment. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 72:589–618.

Gallup Organization trends, with particular attention to surveys fielded Oct. 16-19, 2009 and June 5– July  6,  2008.

Gallup Organization (2007). Survey of 2,388 interviews with national adults, aged 18 and older, was conducted June 4-24, 2007, including oversamples of blacks and Hispanics. poll/28417/most-americans-approve-interracial-marriages.aspx.

Gallup Organization for Phi Delta Kappa (2006). June 11–July 5, 2006, n = 1,007 telephone interviews with adults nationally. From the iPOLL Databank, The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University  of  Connecticut.

Gilens, Martin. (1999) Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gilliam Jr., Franklin and Manuel, Tiffany (2009). The Illogic of Literalness: Narrative Lessons in the Presentation of Race Policies. Washington, D.C.: FrameWorks  Institute.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (2009). Pew Economic Mobility Survey. January 27-February 8, 2009, n=1000 Respondents (2119 Unweighted), 400 African American Oversample (517 total cases, unweighted), 400 Hispanic Oversample (520 total cases, unweighted), 300 Youth (under age 40) Oversample (497 total cases, unweighted). Questionnaire.pdf.

Harris Interactive (2009). Committee of 100. January 5 – 30, 2009. N = 1,221 telephone interviews with adults nationally, with an oversample of 206 Chinese Americans. Full Report: http://survey. Topline Results: files/ToplineResultsfinal.pdf.

Hart/McInturff (2010). The NBC/Wall Street Journal Survey. January 10-14, 2010, n=1,002 adults. FI9500.pdf.

Hart/McInturff (2009). The NBC/Wall Street Journal Survey. June 12-15, 2009, n=1,008 adults. http://

Hutchings, Vincent L. (2009). Change or More of the Same? Evaluating Racial Attitudes in the Obama Era. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 5 2009, pp. 917-942.

Jost, John T., Jaime L. Napier, Huida Thorisdottir, Samuel D. Gosling, Tibor P. Palfai, & Brian Ostafin, (2007). “Are needs to manage uncertainty and threat associated with political conservatism or ideological extremity?” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 989-1007.

Kaplowitz, Stan A., Bradley J. Fisher, Clifford L. Broman (2003). How Accurate are Perceptions of Social Statistics About Blacks and Whites? Effects of Race and Education. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 67:237–243.

Katz, Irwin, and R. Glen Hass (1988). “Racial Ambivalence and American Value Conflict: Correlational and Priming Studies of Dual Cognitive Structures.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55:893–905.

Link, Michael, and Robert Oldendick (1996). ‘‘Social Construction and White Attitudes toward Equal Opportunity and Multiculturalism.’’ Journal of Politics 58:149–68.

Lipset, Seymour M., and William Schneider (1978). “The Bakke Case: How Would It Be Decided at the Bar of Public Opinion?” Public Opinion 1:38–44.

Mazzocco, Philip (2006). “The Dangers of Not Speaking About Race.” Prepared for the Kirwin Institute, Ohio State University, May 2006.

National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago (2010). March 15 – August 12, 2010, 2,043 personal interviews with adults nationally. From the iPOLL Databank, The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.

Opinion Research Corporation for Cable News Network & Essence Magazine (2008). March 26- April 2, 2008. N = 2,184 telephone interviews with adults nationally including an oversample of blacks; a total of 1014 African-American respondents. From the iPOLL Databank, The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.

Patchen, Martin, James Davidson, Gerhard Hofmann, and William Brown (1977). “Determinants of Students’ Interracial Behavior and Opinion Change.” Sociology of Education 50:55–75.

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2011). “A Tale of Two Fathers.” May 26-29 and June 2-5, 2011. N= 2,006 adults nationally. Includes a Pew Research Center analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth.

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2010). The 2010 Political Independents Survey, August 25 – September 6, 2010, n=3509.

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project (2009). Racial Attitudes in America II, October 28 – November 30, 2009, whites n=1447, Blacks  n=812, Hispanics n=376. prospects.pdf.

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2008). Political and Economic Survey, December 3-7,  2008, n=1,489. Topline:

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (April 2007). No Child Left Behind Survey, April 18- 22,  2007, n=1508. Topline:

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (January 2007). The 2007 Values Update Survey, December 12, 2006 – January 9, 2007, n=2007.

Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRA) for Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2011). “January 2011 Political Survey.” January 5-9, 2011. N= 1,503 adults nationally.

Smith, Tom W. (1990). Ethnic Images. GSS Topical Report no. 19. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

Tesler, Michael and David O. Sears (2010). Is the Obama Presidency Post Racial? Evidence from his   First Year in Office, Prepared for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 22-25, 2010. (Much of this paper appears as Chapter 8 in Tesler, Michael and David O. Sears. 2010. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.)

Tuch, Steven A., Lee Sigelman, Jason A. MacDonald (1999). The Poll – Trends Race Relations and American Youth, 1976 – 1995. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 63:109–148.

Valentino, Nicholas A. and Ted Brader (2011). The Sword’s Other Edge: Perceptions of Discrimination and Racial Policy Opinion after Obama. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 2, Summer 2011, pp. 201-226.

Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University (2011). The Race and Recession Survey, January 27 to February 9, 2011, n=1,959, oversamples of 501 African Americans and 501 Hispanic Americans.

Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University (2006). African American Men Survey, March 20 to April 29, 2006, n=2,864.

Westen Strategies/Lake Research (2009). “Neutralizing the Affirmative Action Debate.” June 26-30, 2009. Online dial test with 1,200 likely voters nationally.

Wilson, David C. (2010). Perceptions about the Amount of Interracial Prejudice Depend on Racial Group Membership and Question Order. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 74, No. 2, Summer 2010, pp. 344–356.

Wilson, David C., David W. Moore, Patrick F. McKay, and Derek R. Avery (2008). Affirmative Action Programs for Women and Minorities Expressed Support Affected by Question Order. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 3, Fall 2008, pp. 514–522.

Winter, Nicholas J. G. (2008). Dangerous Frames: How Ideas about Race and Gender Shape Public Opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Yankelovich/Radio One (2007). October – November 2007, N=3400 interviews (web and phone) with black Americans ages 13-74.


1. Few surveys include enough interviews to analyze responses by African-American men in isolation, though we include these findings when possible. Further, very few of the surveys in this review offered subgroup analysis among other racial and ethnic groups. Our references to views of other ethnic groups are therefore limited.

2. American National Election Studies (2008); Allstate/National Journal, Heartland Monitor Poll IX (2011).

3. Researchers should have healthy skepticism about whether self-professed views of race and ethnicity tell the whole story. Several dynamics have been shown to influence survey response including social desirability, question wording and context, and perceived race of interviewer. In addition to the results reported on here, readers should look to the Topos social science literature   review for The Opportunity Agenda, October 2011, Social Science Literature Review: Media Representations and Impact on the Lives   of Black Men and  Boys.

4. Using data gathered in 1995, researchers found that white and black respondents dramatically underestimated the racial gap in “out-of-wedlock births” (actual gap in 1995 was 46.1 percent, white and black respondents averaged 16.1 percent and 23.1 percent, respectively); both groups underestimated the gap in “family income” (actual gap was $12,500, white and black respondents estimated $9,410 and $9,500, respectively); both groups underestimated the racial gap in the “average income of male college graduates” with white respondents underestimating the size of the gap more than black respondents (actual gap was $6,600, white and black respondents estimated $2,370 and $5,860, respectively); and finally, white respondents underestimated the racial gap in poverty rates while blacks who responded gave higher than the actual number. (According to Kaplowitz, the actual gap in percent in poverty was 22.3, white and black respondents estimated 17.9 and 25.3, respectively.)

5. The “Black New Middle Class” is defined in the study as follows: “the best educated, most employed and wealthiest segment  is mostly between the ages of 25 and 44 and is the most technologically forward segment” of the survey population.

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