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Politics

Trying To Gauge The State Of Race Relations In South Carolina

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South Carolina Government

Over the past three weeks, the Winthrop Poll has been carrying out an ambitious survey, gauging the state of race relations in South Carolina. Thursday, the first round of the poll’s findings were released.

It’s been nearly a year since the Emanuel A.M.E. church massacre in Charleston.

Nearly 9 months since the Confederate battle flag stopped flying on the South Carolina capital grounds. A good time to stop, and consider race relations in the state.

Measuring the views on racism, discrimination and generally how whites and blacks perceive each other takes a bit of finesse. So this poll started with such well-trod questions as the approval ratings of politicians ranging from President Obama to Governor Nikki Haley.

And what the most important issue facing the country currently is. For whites, it’s the economy. "However for blacks, the most frequently mentioned problem for the United States was racism," says Scott Huffmon, director of the Winthrop Poll. And he wants to stress something. "At this point in the survey, no mention of race, at all, had been made."

When the respondents did get to those questions on race relations, they were asked to use what’s known as the feeling thermometer, which Huffmon describes as "a scale that ranges from zero to 100." Zero means you’re totally against something, or very cold towards it. One hundred meaning you believe it 100 percent in essence. Or are very “warm to it.”

Respondents were asked questions like how they felt about the police. The mean for whites was 78 which Huffmon describes as "very warm." Blacks scored their relationship a "chillier 62."

But the biggest difference was found in feelings toward the Black Lives Matter movement. "The whites felt awfully chilly towards the Black Lives Matter movement with a mean of 38." But Huffmon adds that African-Americans were very warm towards the movement, scoring it at 75. "Now this doesn’t mean they approve of everything they do but it means they feel warmly towards this group that is giving voice to some of their concerns."

The poll also asked if people felt they had been discriminated against in the past year. Forty-five percent of African-Americans answered yes. Fifty-four percent of African-Americans said no. "Everyone who I’ve spoken to about it who is white says that’s amazing that over half of African-Americans say they have not been discriminated against in the past year. And the African-Americans I’ve talked to said there’s progress, but look, almost half are still being discriminated against in 2016."

When asked to rate race relations in the United States, 41 percent of African-Americans in South Carolina rated it poor. Sixty-nine percent of whites rated it good or fair. And while both white and black respondents said race relations were much better than 40, 30 and 20 years ago, they also feel that improvement has slowed over the last 10 years.