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On MLK Day, Siena Poll Measures New Yorkers’ Attitude On Race

Composite Image by Dave Lucas / WAMC

As Martin Luther King's life and legacy are celebrated across the country today, a Siena Poll indicates New Yorkers’ views of race relations have soured compared to a decade ago.

"New Yorkers views on race relations today are nearly as negative as they have ever been over the last dozen years. Interestingly these negative views on the state of race relations in our state are across the board. At least 60 percent of whites, blacks, Latinos, upstaters, downstaters, liberals, moderates and conservatives all view relations negatively."   Siena’s Steve Greenberg says in 2010, a majority of New Yorkers, 51 percent, had a positive view of race relations in the state.

MLK Day 2020: Only One-Third of New Yorkers View Race Relations in the State as Excellent (5%) or Good (28%); In 2010, 51% Had Positive Views of Race Relations in NY

"As New Yorkers commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. only 33 percent of New Yorkers think race relations in the state are excellent or good, compared to 64 percent who say they're only fair or poor, down a little from last year's Siena College poll when 35 percent viewed race relations positively and 60 percent viewed them negatively."

Leon Van Dyke is an original member of The Brothers, an Albany-based civil rights group that fought for change and combatted racism during the turbulent 1960's.   "I don't question the Siena survey. But, you look at the changes. And then you when you read the studies and what have you, it's obviously that we have we have quite a ways to go. Some people were not able to take advantage of the opportunities that were presented. The schools and that are not in good shape.  But you have more African Americans graduating from college than ever before, but it's still not the same, there's not equity here. So I wouldn't, I don't question it at all. But there's changes and those changes are obvious to me."

Van Dyke, who just recently returned to Albany after 11 years overseas, himself has a positive view of local race relations today versus 15 to 20 years ago.   "You almost would never see black working, you know, as sales people what have you. And now I see it all over the place. You know I smile to myself when I'm eating when I'm at the Olive Garden, you know, and you see the host is black, you see the waiter black, and before when would you see a black person in these stores, they were they were mopping the floors. So that's a big change that I see. That's different even with... this in the last 11 years. So the diversity is becoming obvious."

The Siena survey finds that with diversity comes discrimination, though, according to Greenberg.   "71 percent of white voters say that ethnic and racial minorities experienced discrimination in New York. So too do 81 percent of Latinos and 91 percent of black voters. Similarly at least 70 percent of Jews, Catholics and Protestants as well as blacks, whites and Latinos, say religious minorities in New York experienced discrimination. More than one-third of New Yorkers — 35 percent — say that in the last year they have been treated unfairly because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Last year only 30 percent said they were treated unfairly. However, last year the wording of the question did not include religion. If 35 percent of 12 million New York voters were treated unfairly last year because of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. That means more than four million New Yorkers faced discrimination based on who they are or what they look like. That is certainly not a legacy that would make doctor King very proud."

Siena Poll: MLK Day 2020:

The Siena College Poll was conducted January 11-16, 2020 by telephone calls conducted in English to 814 New York State registered voters. Respondent sampling was initiated by asking for the youngest male in the household. It has an overall margin of error of + 4.1 percentage points including the design effects resulting from weighting. Sampling was conducted via a stratified dual frame probability sample of landline (ASDE) and cell phone (Dynata) telephone numbers from within New York State. Data was statistically adjusted by age, party by region, race/ethnicity, and gender to ensure representativeness.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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