Trends in Racial Attitudes

Trends in Racial Attitudes

How do people feel about race?

For those who believe we live in a post-racial society, this question may seem simple. Although survey data collected since the 1940s do show that racial attitudes held by whites and African Americans have changed, that change is much more complicated than generally assumed. As state and federal policies have been adopted to battle racial inequality—from the desegregation of schools to preventing housing discrimination to affirmative action—there have been changes in some aspects of the nation’s racial climate. But has there been universal change in the hearts and minds of Americans? The answer to this question in complex.


This website compiles the results of several national surveys that have been tracking Americans’ racial attitudes from as early as the 1940s up until today. The focus is on data that can shed light on trends. The researchers include questions that have been repeated at least three times, spanning at least 10 years. The surveys measure white and African American attitudes on racial equality, government efforts to ensure equal treatment, affirmative action, preferred social contact with racial groups, and other topics for which trend data are available. Unfortunately, questions of and about Latinos have not been asked regularly in the national surveys that are available. Therefore, our portrait is limited to African American and white respondents.


Looking at the historical data, one conclusion is consistent and strong: racial attitudes are complex. Take a closer look at the patterns and trends for more detailed topics and survey questions by browsing the menu to the left.


Read a general summary of the findings:
"A Portrait of African American and White Racial Attitudes" 



For more information about this website's content, contact Maria Krysan.

The data here build on a book published in 1997 titled Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, Revised Edition, by Howard Schuman, Charlotte Steeh, Lawrence Bobo, and Maria Krysan (Harvard University Press).

Cite this research as follows:

Krysan, M., & Moberg, S. (2016, August 25). Trends in racial attitudes. University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs. Retrieved from