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Siena Poll Revisits Systemic Racism

Illustration by Dave Lucas & L Liu

A new Siena College poll out today tracks New Yorkers’ thoughts on racism during this summer of unrest.

A June 29 Siena College research Institute poll found 81 percent of voters in New York state believe systemic racism in the United States is a serious problem, while 60 percent do not think people of color are treated fairly by the criminal justice system.

Siena revisited the issue in a second survey. Pollster Don Levy says results maintain that 81 percent finding.

"Amongst Black New Yorkers that number jumps up to 99 percent. Democrats, a little bit more sensitive to systemic racism at 92 percent, while Republicans, two-thirds of Republicans, agree that systemic racism is at least somewhat of a serious problem."

Center For Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green says systemic racism has been an ongoing problem in the city of Albany for years.


"Many people did not understand what systemic racism was because they are so used to thinking of racism as being something that individuals exhibit and it's very overt. But, I think because of the pandemic, and also because of the murder of George Floyd, people are starting to understand what systemic racism is, that it's built into our system and it's what causes the system to discriminate against particularly African-Americans and other people of color."

Siena asked New Yorkers how often they witness discrimination. One-third said often.

"An additional 37 percent say that they sometimes witness that. And not surprisingly, amongst Black New Yorkers, that number jumps, 71 percent saying that they often witness discrimination. We also asked whether you personally would describe yourself as 'not racist,' you're a tolerant person, or, are you anti-racist, meaning that you actively oppose racism. Then we find that a small majority, 53 percent of all New Yorkers, 67 percent of Black New Yorkers, 68 percent of young New Yorkers, would describe themselves as being 'anti-racist,' rather than simply 'tolerant.'"

36 percent of survey respondents describe themselves as "not racist," a number that caught Green's attention.

"We would have thought that the number would have been higher. Usually, when they're asked that question about whether they're racist or not always say that I'm a non-racist. Also was interested in the statistic regarding those who define themselves as anti-racist, which was 53 percent. And that's higher than we thought it would be, because being anti-racist requires you to really understand systemic racism and it requires you to actively do things to address racism."

Green adds that although more people are defining themselves as "non-racist" and "anti-racist," there is some skepticism.

"They worry about whether this will be sustained when we get involved in making some systemic changes, pushing for social equity, and that's when people will be somewhat inconvenienced, and will they still be as actively involved in the anti-racist movement as they indicate that they are now."

Green says the Center For Law And Justice is moving ahead with plans to host a community/government symposium this fall.

  • The Siena Poll was conducted June 28–July2,6-82020 by random telephone calls to410New York adults via landline and cell phones and 400responses drawn from a proprietary panel (Lucid) of New Yorkers.Telephone sampling was initiated by asking for the youngest person in the household.Telephone sampling was conducted via a stratified dual frame probability sample of landline and cell phone telephone numbers (land from ASDE Survey Sampler, cell from Dynata) from within New York State weighted to reflect known population patterns. Data from the telephone and web samples were blended and statistically adjusted by age, race/ethnicity, party and gender to ensure representativeness. SCRI reports this data at a 95% confidence level with a margin of error of +3.7pointsincluding the design effects resulting from weighting.

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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