2016 Public Affairs Survey Finds Most Americans Take Discrimination Seriously

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Strong majorities of Americans are concerned about all forms of discrimination — whether it’s based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender or other factors. But attitudes about discrimination vary sharply based on political party, age, gender and other factors.

The results come from the 2016 Public Affairs Pulse survey, a telephone poll of 1,000 Americans conducted Sept. 12–17 by Public Opinion Strategies and sponsored by the Public Affairs Council. The annual survey asks Americans to weigh in on a host of topics related to business and society.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Americans believe racial discrimination is at least a serious problem and 37 percent say it is a very serious problem. Similar percentages call gender identity discrimination at least a serious (67%) or very serious (37%) problem.

Most Americans also believe other types of discrimination — based on sexual orientation, disability, religion, gender and age — are serious concerns.

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Business Anti-Discrimination Efforts Go Unnoticed
Major companies receive little credit for their efforts to reduce discrimination. One in three Americans (34%) think corporations have played a positive role in reducing discrimination of people with disabilities, and slightly lower percentages recognize business efforts to reduce discrimination by gender (28%), race (27%) and sexual orientation (26%). For discrimination by gender identity, religion and age, more Americans feel companies have played a negative role rather than a positive one.

Across all categories of discrimination, however, the most common response from the public is that corporate actions have made no difference at all.

Public Supports More Efforts by Companies
On the other hand, if major companies were to take steps to prevent discrimination based on any of these factors, most Americans say they would view these efforts favorably. This is particularly true for discrimination based on disabilities, race, age and gender. But it applies to every category — even those portrayed as controversial by the news media. For example, while 10 percent of the public say they would think less favorably of companies taking steps to prevent gender identity discrimination, 53 percent say they would have a more favorable opinion of firms working to address this issue.

Differences between Political Parties
Republicans, on balance, are less likely than Democrats and Independents to see discrimination across these seven areas as serious problems. While majorities of Republicans say racial and religious discrimination are serious problems, smaller percentages of GOP voters are as concerned about the other forms.

The largest differences between Republicans and Democrats show up in attitudes about gender identity discrimination (46 percent of Republicans versus 84 percent of Democrats view the matter to be serious) and sexual orientation discrimination (45 percent of Republicans versus 79 percent of Democrats say this is a serious problem).

Majorities of Independents say all seven forms of discrimination are serious, but the percentages are not as high as those for Democrats.

For full results of the Public Affairs Pulse survey and the survey methodology, visit pac.org/pulse.


pinkham_headshot_webDoug Pinkham is president of the Public Affairs Council and a Trustee for the Institute for Public Relations. Follow the Public Affairs Council on Twitter @PACouncil.

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