How people around the world view racial and ethnic discrimination in the US

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Concerns about racial and ethnic discrimination are widespread in most of the 17 advanced economies surveyed by the Pew Research Center this spring. The majority of adults in 14 of these places say discrimination based on race or ethnicity is a fairly or very serious problem in their own societies – including about three-quarters or more in Italy, France, Sweden, Germany, and the United States. Only in Japan, Singapore and Taiwan do less than half say that such discrimination is a serious problem.

This analysis by the Pew Research Center focuses on comparing attitudes about whether racial and ethnic discrimination is a problem within a particular survey audience and whether it is a problem in the United States. For data outside the United States, this post draws on nationally representative surveys of 16,254 adults from March 12 to May 26, 2021 in 16 advanced economies. All surveys were conducted by telephone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

In the United States, we surveyed 2,596 adults from February 1-7, 2021. Everyone who took the U.S. survey is a member of the center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online polling panel recruited through national random sampling of residential addresses. This way, almost all adults have a chance to choose. The poll is weighted to be representative of the adult US population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education, and other categories.

This study was carried out at locations where representative telephone surveys nationwide are possible. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, in-person interviews are currently not possible in many parts of the world.

Here are the questions that were used for this analysis, along with the answers. Visit our method database for more information on survey methods outside of the US. For respondents in the US, read more about the method of ATP.

But even if large majorities in these countries see racial and ethnic discrimination as a serious problem, even larger majorities in the US see it as a problem as something or a very serious problem. This includes at least nine in ten people who hold this position in New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

In most of the locations surveyed, younger adults are more likely than older people to see discrimination as a problem, be it in their own society or in the United States. For example, among Spaniards 69% of under 30 year olds think racial and ethnic discrimination in their own society is a serious problem, compared to 44% of over 65 year olds. Younger Spaniards are also more likely than older Spaniards to see discrimination as a serious problem in the US – although age-related disagreements about American discrimination are less pronounced, both in Spain and elsewhere.

A graph showing that younger adults are more likely than older adults to say that racial and ethnic discrimination is a serious problem - both in the US and in their own society

In most of the industrialized countries examined, women are discriminated against more often than men. For example, in the US, 80% of women say discrimination against people based on race or ethnicity is a fairly or very serious problem, compared with 68% of men. In Canada, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand and South Korea, there are also gender-specific differences of around 10 percentage points both in terms of local discrimination and in the USA (although the differences are smaller for the USA. ) pronounced).

In many places, the ideological left in their own society and in the USA will see racial and ethnic discrimination as a more serious problem than the right. The ideological divide on this issue is greatest in the US itself: 92% of the left (liberals, in common US parlance) say racial and ethnic discrimination is a serious problem, compared with 47% of the right (conservatives), a difference of 45 points. The second largest ideological divide is in Australia, where 80% of the left and 50% of the right believe that discrimination is a serious problem in Australia. In general, people on the ideological left are also more likely than those on the right to say that discrimination is a serious problem in the United States.

A graph showing that the ideological left is more likely than the right to perceive racial and ethnic discrimination as a serious problem in both the US and at home

Attitudes sometimes also differ depending on the level of education, especially when it comes to discrimination in the United States. For example, in Taiwan, 95% of people with at least a post-secondary degree identify discrimination as a serious problem in the United States, compared with 77% of people with less than a post-secondary degree. Education, on the other hand, only plays a role in Singapore, Japan and South Korea when it comes to domestic perceptions of discrimination.

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with the answers. Visit our method database for more information on survey methods outside of the US. For respondents in the US, read more about the ATP method.

Laura silver is a Senior Researcher with a focus on global research at the Pew Research Center.


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