Bay State voters believe race relations have worsened, but view our state more favorably than the US as a whole
By Frank Conte
(Editor’s note: We asked our expert on data analysis, Frank Conte, to help us understand how adults in Massachusetts feel about the health of race relations. It’s a question with profoundly important implications, not just for Blacks, but for all people working to earn a living. The examination Frank provides here serves as a waymark to understanding where we are on the path to establishing an atmosphere of fairness and respect in communities and in workplaces. Frank works for the survey firm Princeton Research Associates.)
It did not take long after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis for opinions on race relations to change. Our recent survey looked at how Bay State residents viewed the health of racial harmony both here in Massachusetts and throughout the US and we found that many feel it has deteriorated.
According to a May 2020 Princeton Research Associates poll, 44 percent of Massachusetts voters believed race relations here were “the worse in my lifetime,” an increase of 17 points from a December 2018 PRA poll. Only 24 percent of the voters queried believed race relations in Massachusetts were better than in the past. That’s a 9-point decrease since the last survey in December. Eleven percent were unsure, a figure that has not changed much since the last poll.
About 20 percent took a more neutral position with the opinion that race relations in the state were okay, even amid the turmoil and protests against policy brutality.
But more Massachusetts voters view local race relations as being worse in the national as a whole than in the Bay State. In the May survey, 75 percent believe relations in the US were “worst in my lifetime” and only 9 percent believe they are better. By comparison, the December PRA survey showed 61 percent felt relations were worse and 12 percent better than in the past.
Fewer voters now stand in the middle in terms of viewing race relations throughout the US – that there is “a lot of noise but OK.” This number decreased to 12 percent in May 2020, down from 20 percent in December 2018.
Meanwhile, more Massachusetts voters now agree with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s provocative assertion in 2018 that the criminal justice system is racist “front to back.” In May, 73 percent of the voters surveyed agreed with Senator Warren’s statement, up from 56 percent in September 2018, one month after she made her remarks. Support for the senator’s statement was strong among all four age groups in the survey as well throughout the four regions polled.
More recently, the PRA surveyed Massachusetts voters on police reform. One idea being considered would remove traffic enforcement from official police duties. Since many of the most troubling interactions between police and minorities take place on the road, some public officials are considering separating the roles as a way to reduce violence. The city of Cambridge is currently studying a proposal that would assign unarmed city workers to the task of enforcing traffic regulations.
According to Princeton Research Associates, Massachusetts voters support such a measure by an almost 2 to 1 margin. Meanwhile, 22 percent are unsure such a policy would make sense. This particular poll has a five percent margin of error.
Clearly, high-profile events can significantly impact public opinion. And public opinion can impact everything from work- and community-environment satisfaction to how people vote.
Frank Conte is a data analyst with Princeton Research Associates, a Massachusetts polling aggregation service. He also is the editor and publisher of EastBoston.com. For more information about PRA’s methodology and for other polls, visit www.princetonresearchassociates.com.