In 2020, California established the first-in-nation law to study and develop reparations proposals for slavery and its lingering negative effects on African Americans. The resulting Reparations Task Force recently approved recommendations on how the state may compensate and apologize for slavery and past injustices. How do Californians view these historic efforts? Our latest survey finds that majorities see racism and its effects as a problem. While fewer than half have a favorable opinion of the task force itself, majorities support one of its recommendations: a formal apology from the legislature and governor for the violations of slavery.
The Reparations Task Force provided a wide range of recommendations. To date, news coverage has largely focused on cash payments to eligible Californians. Our current survey did not test public support for this particular action, given that key details are yet to be determined by the legislature and governor—not the task force.
Largely missing from the discussion so far is a broader understanding of how residents view racism and the legacy of slavery. With the task force’s recommendations headed to the legislature by July 1, it’s a constructive time to provide the public opinion context for this work:
- Racism. About eight in ten Californians view racism as a problem in the US today (42% big problem, 37% somewhat of a problem). This share is consistent with PPIC surveys in the past few years. Today, Democrats (60%) and African Americans (58%) more than others perceive racism as a “big” problem.
- Racism and economic inequality. About seven in ten think that racial and ethnic discrimination contributes to economic inequality (32% great deal, 39% fair amount). PPIC surveys have found similar results over the past few years. Today, Democrats (45%), African Americans (51%), Asian Americans (40%), and college graduates (40%) more than others say that racial and ethnic discrimination contributes to inequality a “great deal.”
- Black Lives Matter. Nearly six in ten say they support the Black Lives Matter movement (59%). Majorities have held this view in PPIC surveys over the past few years. Today, majorities of Democrats (82%) and independents (55%)–compared to 20% of Republicans—and at least half or more across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups, and state regions, say they support the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Slavery’s legacy. Fifty-three percent think that the legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people in American society today (23% great deal, 30% fair amount). A Pew Research Center survey found similar results in a national survey in October 2021. Once again, Democrats (37%), African Americans (53%), Asian Americans (30%), and college graduates (30%) more than others think that the legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people in American society today a “great deal.”
- Formal apology. Fifty-nine percent support the state legislature and governor offering a formal apology for human rights violations and crimes against humanity for enslaved Africans and their descendants. Majorities of Democrats (76%) and independents (58%)—compared to 21% of Republicans—and about half or more across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups, and state regions, say they support a formal apology.
- Reparations Task Force. Forty-three percent say they have a favorable opinion of the task force after reading this brief summary: “California established a Reparations Task Force to study how the legacy of slavery affects Black people and present recommendations to the governor and legislature for appropriate remedies and compensation.” Majorities of Democrats (58%), African Americans (65%), non-US-born residents (56%), Latinos (53%), 18-to-34 year-olds (52%), and those with household incomes below $40,000 a year (52%) say they have a favorable opinion.
These views demonstrate some large gaps between views of racism and support for a variety of actions to counter it. To better understand current views of the task force, we dug deeper into our findings:
- Majorities who have favorable views of the task force are those who say racism is a “big problem” (61%), those who think that racial and ethnic discrimination contributes to economic inequality “a great deal” (67%), and those who think that the legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people in society today “a great deal” (80%) and a “fair amount” (55%).
- Remarkably, race/ethnicity is not a significant factor in support for the task force after performing a multivariate analysis that examined attitudes, demographics, and party registration. The results: answers to the legacy of slavery question, Democratic party affiliation, and not being born in the US are the three significant factors in predicting who has favorable views of the task force. The importance of party registration is a telling sign of our politically polarized times.
- Among those who have a favorable opinion of the task force, 87% support a formal apology by the legislature and governor. And for those who support a formal apology, 63% have a favorable opinion of the task force.
As these findings suggest, a number of attitudes play a role in how Californians view reparations. Moreover, certain beliefs—such as the effects of slavery’s legacy—can swamp the importance of other views or personal characteristics. It will be critical to explore a wider range of racial attitudes and key beliefs as California confronts the enormous task of addressing the harms of slavery.
This is an opportune time for the pollster’s disclaimer that “polls are a snapshot in time.” During the 25-year history of the PPIC Statewide Survey, we have witnessed big shifts in attitudes toward immigrants, gun control, same-sex marriage, and marijuana legalization. However, there is no evidence in the current survey that the Reparations Task Force has moved the needle in the past three years. It will be up to the legislature and governor to raise public awareness, work through the issues, and seek common ground. Will there be public hearings, town halls, televised interviews, a citizens’ assembly, or ballot measures? These actions could lead to major changes in attitudes toward the legacy of slavery and views about reparations.
The PPIC Statewide Survey will be monitoring the public’s support for legislative proposals while we broaden our focus on racial attitudes, to track public opinion and see if change is occurring during this historic dialogue and debate.