COVID-19 in the South

Overall, the coronavirus pandemic and the economy are the top priorities among Southerners surveyed.

There are large differences by race on whether the pace of the economic re-opening is too fast, not fast enough, or about right. A majority of Black Southerners (53%) and a plurality of Latino Southerners (40%) believe their city or county is re-opening too fast. Meanwhile, 42% of white respondents say re-opening is occurring at the right pace. Mirroring national numbers, just 18% overall say their community is opening “not fast enough.”

2020 survey about re-opening

When asked if they plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, just 27% of Black respondents said “yes” with 58% saying “no”. Latino respondents were nearly evenly split, with 43% saying “yes” and 45% saying “no”. Among white respondents, 51% agreed to get the vaccine when it is available compared to the 34% who said “no”. Among those who said they would not get the vaccine, Black residents were more likely (54%) to attribute this to not trusting this particular vaccine than an anti-vaccine posture overall. A plurality and a majority of white and Latino respondents, respectively, who said they wouldn’t take the vaccine said it was because they don’t trust vaccines in general.

survey to see who would get COVID vaccine when it is available

2020 Elections

There is general confidence in having a fair election, but Black Southerners, in particular, are concerned over ballot access.

Election Integrity Poll

When asked which two issues are most important in determining their vote, Black Southerners overwhelmingly named racial justice (49%) and the coronavirus pandemic (44%). White and Latino respondents selected the pandemic and the economy as their top choices. Healthcare was the third choice among all races. Interestingly, the education level of the respondents did not impact the issue prioritization.

Race Relations & Systemic Racism

There remain clear racial divides in opinion regarding the causes of socioeconomic disparities in America. Even though large racial gaps remain regarding the causes of living in poverty, there has been a striking movement among white Southerners’ views since our initial survey 12 months ago. A majority of white respondents (51%) now attribute poverty to a lack of opportunity rather than poor life choices. This is considerably less than Black respondents at 78%, but it marks a very striking shift among white respondents over the past 12 months (from -2 to +10 lack of opportunity/poor life choices). This shift is less dramatic than what we saw in June, though 51% of white respondents attributing poverty to lack of opportunity remains the same. Over the same period, Black and Latino respondents are much more likely to cite “lack of opportunity” as the cause compared to “poor life choices.” Women, non-college-educated, and younger respondents are driving the changes among the white residents.

Economic Situation Causes Chart

A majority of Black respondents (69%) and a plurality (45%) of Latino respondents think too little attention is paid to race and racial issues today in the United States. Meanwhile, nearly half (47%) of white respondents believe too much attention is paid to race and racial issues in the U.S.

Respondents of all races agree on one thing–race relations are worse than they were five years ago with 49% of white, 72% of Black, and 57% of Latino respondents saying race relations are worse today. The answer is more split on whether race relations are better, the same, or worse today compared to 50 years ago. A plurality of Black respondents (39%) agreed it was worse today than 50 years ago, while 48% of white respondents viewed race relations as better today. Latino respondents were mixed (28% “better”, 38% “about the same” and 32% “worse”). Across race, people are less positive about progress over the past 50 years compared to October 2019.

Race Relations 5 Years Ago Poll

Police Reform

While Black respondents strongly support numerous police reforms, the support of white respondents is much weaker, particularly on changes that address the use of force and the role of police in a community. Latino Southerners are more supportive of reforms than white Southerners are, but not as supportive as Black respondents are.

There’s a wide racial gap on the question of who is responsible for the deaths of Black men and women in police custody. A plurality of white respondents (39%) believe it is the behavior of individuals in police custody themselves most responsible. A plurality of both Black and Latino respondents said a “racist police system” is most responsible (42% of Black and 31% of Latino respondents), though Latino respondents’ views were mixed.

Custody Deaths Chart

Still, racial divides exist on whether reforms will go too far or not far enough. White respondents are concerned that lawmakers will go too far with police reform (48% “too far” and 34% “not far enough”), and Black residents are concerned that lawmakers will not go far enough (65% “not far enough”). A large plurality of Latino respondents say reforms will not go far enough (48%) versus going too far (31%).

Lawmakers Concern

White respondents opposed “re-imagining policing, so police officers only deal with violent crime and robbery while assigning non-violent situations to mental health professionals and other experts” in equal numbers as they approved of the concept. Meanwhile, 74% of Black respondents and 62% of Latino respondents approve of the concept of “re-imagining policing.”

GBAO Strategies of Washington, D.C. conducted the survey on landlines, cellphones, and an online panel from October 7-12, 2020. Latino respondents were given the option of taking the survey in English or Spanish. The margin of error for each racial group is +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.