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Majority Of Americans Say Trump Increased Racial Tensions After George Floyd's Death, Poll Finds


President Trump declared himself a law-and-order president and an ally of all peaceful protesters in the wake of George Floyd's death. But he then criticized protesters.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror. The destruction of innocent life and the spilling of innocent blood is an offense to humanity and a crime against God.

SIMON: As the president spoke, police and troops used force to clear away nonviolent protesters outside the White House, so the president could walk to a nearby church for a photo op. A new poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist finds that two-thirds of Americans say President Trump has increased racial tensions following the death of George Floyd. Joining us now to talk about the poll is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks so much for being with us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, there, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Overall, how do Americans view the protests?

MONTANARO: You know, they view them pretty positively. I mean, there's a 62 to 28% margin that people say that they view the demonstrations as mostly legitimate protests rather than mostly people acting unlawfully. And by a similar 61 to 31% margin, they view the demonstrations as more protests than riots, pretty much the same numbers. And while a majority still have at least a fair amount of confidence in police in their own communities to treat black and white people equally, that's down eight points from a Marist poll from 2014. There are, predictably, divides along party and racial lines. You have 59% of Republicans saying that they view the demonstrations as riots, for example, and almost half of African Americans, 48%, saying that they have very little to no confidence that the police will treat whites and blacks equally.

SIMON: Domenico, have these attitudes towards protests changed over the years?

MONTANARO: This was a huge finding, I feel like, in the poll, that there's been this sea change, really, from the 1960s, when demonstrators took to the streets to fight for civil rights. I took a look back at some of the poll numbers from Gallup and Harris and others. And majorities in the 1960s had an unfavorable view of civil rights demonstrations, and they thought that they would actually hurt African Americans' cause for racial equality.

For example, in one poll question, 1963, 60% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the planned March on Washington. That's the same March on Washington that produced Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. And in 1968, you remember the unrest around the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Majorities approved of the police's response and said that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley then was right in his forceful use of the police against those demonstrators. And that's just not what we're seeing today.

SIMON: And, of course, Domenico, these protests come along the same timetable as elections in November. According to this poll, what are Americans saying about the job President Trump is doing?

MONTANARO: You know, President Trump's approval rating's about where it's been. It's at 41%. But his disapproval rating, we find, is on the rise. It's up five points from March to 55%. That's almost a record high of disapproval for President Trump. And beneath the surface is what's really interesting here. Almost half the country, 47%, now says that they strongly disapprove of the job that President Trump is doing. That's the highest we've ever seen. That kind of intensity of disapproval is just stunning. Most of that movement, by the way, is coming from independents. They've shot up 10 points since March in their strong disapproval of the president. And that's a group Trump won in 2016. But he's done really very little to reach out to them since becoming president.

SIMON: And what could this mean for reelection?

MONTANARO: Well, look. We're five months away from the election, so you don't want to draw too many conclusions. But right now, Trump is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, quite significantly. Trump is down 50 to 43 against Biden. And, you know, at this point, Biden's made a lot of inroads with some key groups - whites, men, older voters - and significant gains with suburban voters in particular. And for all the criticism that Joe Biden has faced from some corners on his policies on race, he's winning 88% of black voters, pretty much what Democrats have gotten in past presidential elections.

SIMON: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks very much for speaking with us.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.