In light of recent events at the University of Missouri, when protests took place over perceived institutional racism, we asked State students if they were paying attention to them. We also asked students whether they believed the situation there “raised important issues about race” or if racial issues were “given too much attention.” Our results come on the heels of the NCSU Student Senate passing a resolution in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri.
Back in 2014, we had asked students these same questions about events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, when civil unrest erupted after the shooting of unarmed teen, Michael Brown. In our more recent survey, we also asked students to evaluate how race relations on State’s campus compared to that of Missouri.
Despite their differences, students viewed the two incidents similarly. About the same percentage of students followed news about Ferguson “fairly closely” or “not too closely” as they did about news coverage at the University of Missouri. The main difference is that more than twice as many followed Missouri “very closely” compared to Ferguson, despite greater national attention given to the latter. The most likely explanation is that State students cared more about students elsewhere.
When asked, “Do you think that the situation at Missouri raises important issues about race or do you think the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves?”, most (57%) agreed that Missouri raised important issues about race. By way of comparison, 51% of State students had said that Ferguson raised important issues about race.
Last, few students suggested the racial environment here was similar or worse than at Missouri. Just 20% thought it wasn’t better here at State, and all but three students said it was about the same, not worse.
Stark Racial Differences
Students’ race was highly correlated with their attention and evaluations of Missouri. While 19% of black students said they paid very close attention to events at Missouri, just 4% of whites said the same thing. Another 45% of black students said they were following events there “fairly closely,” but only 30% of whites reported the same.
As was the case with Ferguson, black and white students also disagreed about whether this case raised important issues about race. Among white students, a slim majority (53%) thought race was getting more attention than it deserved. Conversely, 96% of black students, and 71% of other non-white students, felt that Missouri raised important questions about race. Looking back on Ferguson, 57% of whites said race was getting more attention in Ferguson than it deserved, while 88% of black students said the case raised important racial issues.
Last, although 80% of students thought racial issues were worse at Missouri, that percentage rises to 86% among white students, and falls to 52% for black students. Non-black but non-white students were also less likely to say things at State were better (69%).
Our results parallel to a July 2015 Gallup poll in which it was found that racism is inching up as one of the biggest problems in America. In that poll, respondents were asked “what do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?’, with 9% answering racism. Up 3% from just a month prior, State Students, like all Americans, are paying closer attention to the impact race has universities.
The survey took place over the internet Nov 18-19, 2015. We drew a random sample of 3,500 undergraduate students, and supplemented that with a random sample of 538 additional black students. We over-sampled black students to make our comparisons with white students’ answers more reliable. Thus, 4,038 State students were invited to take the survey, and 1038 completed it, resulting in a 26% response rate.
Although self-ideintifed black students are 7% of the undergraduate student body, they were 21% of our sample. When we describe what a representative sample of what all State students think, we apply a post-stratification weight to adjust for imbalance of respondents’ race. For the sample as a whole, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.98%. The sampling error is larger for estimates of sub-groups’ opinions, or when we split the sample to ask slightly different version of a question.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because our measured demographics closely approximate the known student parameters for age, year in school, and gender. Weighting the data would be unlikely to change the reported results by more than 1-2% percentage points for any question results.
Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Nov Race Poll