Reparations Polling Roundup: The last 25 years

Liberation Ventures
7 min readMar 13, 2023

How much support does reparations really have? How much hope is there that reparations will pass? How well do people understand the nature of systemic racism?

We believe that answering these questions can support the reparations movement in our collective advocacy and understanding of our progress. Liberation Ventures is excited to share our first Reparations Polling Roundup, looking at public opinion on reparations over the last 25 years. We have consolidated the results of public-facing surveys that have asked people about their beliefs related to reparations and offer a preliminary analysis below. The takeaways center on what we can learn from change over time: for example, shifts in nationwide support for reparations, nationwide beliefs about the racial wealth gap, and so on.

Note: Liberation Ventures will be exploring how we can improve the quality of polling on reparations. If you are interested in partnering in this effort or sharing your thoughts on what kinds of work need to be done, let us know by emailing vikas@liberationventures.org!

Sources

Liberation Ventures has consolidated a database of public polling on reparations over the last 25 years. Public views of the data are available below:

Key Takeaways

  1. National public support for reparations in the form of cash payments has grown significantly over the last 25 years. Support was at ~15% in 2000; today, it sits around 31%. Our hypothesis is that this shift is a result of several intersecting forces: persistent national discourse about racial inequality; political education about effective solutions driven in part by social movements like Black Lives Matter; a significant and growing base of young progressive people that see reparations as an imperative; and, stronger public support from members of the Democratic party.

2. Support for reparations in the form of significant community investment (non-cash monetary reparations) is higher than support for cash payments, though more research is required. Two recent surveys (conducted by David Binder Research and Liberation Ventures) have identified greater than 50% national support for non-cash monetary reparations; however, additional research is needed to verify this finding. The specific examples of non-cash monetary reparations included investments into Black communities for affordable housing, healthcare and wellness, educational scholarships or loan forgiveness, and business development.

3. The collective effort to educate Americans about racial injustice has made significant headway. The public increasingly believes that the legacies of slavery and discrimination create conditions that ‘make it difficult for Blacks to work themselves out of the lower class’. This trend is promising — recognizing the modern impact of slavery and discrimination is a crucial stepping stone to supporting reparations.

4. There is still a “hope gap”: Only 7% of Black people who support reparations think they are extremely or very likely to pass in their lifetime. It will be important to give people faith that passing comprehensive reparations is possible, especially if we are to activate a large “choir” of advocates (see potential approaches to doing so in the following section).

Potential implications for movement organizations

The implications below have not been empirically tested; they are early hypotheses based purely on the data collected and analyzed above. Movement organizations should use this data as they find helpful. The Reparations Narrative Lab is developing a wide range of narratives, messages, and stories that will have a stronger empirical backing and that will be co-created by leaders in the field.

Highlight the strong — and growing — support for reparations to demonstrate the viability of the movement and combat the “hope gap”

  • [Growth in support] Support for reparations has grown ~15 percentage points in the last 25 years. (Poll results: Support for reparations)
  • The Reparations Narrative Lab is in the process of developing more specific narratives to serve this purpose.

Educate people that reparations are more than cash to build more momentum. Most people’s default assumption is that reparations means cash payments alone. This has the effect of reducing the amount of support reparations seems to have (because more people support non-cash monetary reparations). Reparations education can clarify an inclusive definition of reparations — one that includes cash payments, other monetary investments, and the broader project of transforming our culture.

  • [Understanding of reparations] An estimated 37% of people believe reparations means exclusively cash payments; another 32% don’t know how to define reparations. (Liberation Ventures)
  • [Popularity of non-cash monetary reparations] Potentially 50% of Americans may already support more expansive definitions of reparations: for example, when reparations is defined as “investments in Black communities, Black healthcare and wellbeing, Black entrepreneurship, and Black educational scholarship and loan forgiveness”. (Liberation Ventures, David Binder Research) Note: Liberation Ventures does not necessarily endorse this specific definition of reparations. We recognize that defining the components of non-cash monetary reparations requires further research and conversation within the movement
  • [Black people’s preferences] Black supporters of reparations prefer educational scholarships (80%), support for Black businesses (77%), and support for homeownership (76%) over cash (69%). (Pew.) Note: Liberation Ventures does not necessarily endorse this specific definition of reparations. We recognize that defining the components of non-cash monetary reparations requires further research and conversation within the movement

Emphasize that the racial justice movement’s work to date has already profoundly shifted how Americans understand race in America, meaning that what we are doing is working.

  • [Structural racism] Approximately 50% of Americans agree that slavery and discrimination have left a legacy of structural racism today. (Liberation Ventures, David Binder Research.) Several surveys in the past five years demonstrate that around half of all Americans agree on the negative modern-day impacts of slavery and discrimination
  • [Support for apology] Approximately 50% of Americans agree that the federal government should apologize for slavery. This is up from ~35% in 1997. (Poll results: Support for reparations)

Clarify that demographic trends are on our side — and may be a powerful force for building power in the coming years. Young people today are highly supportive of reparations; as they continue to gain political power, reparations become more feasible.

  • [Young people support reparations] ~45% of 18–29 year olds and ~34% of 30–49 year olds support reparations. (Pew.) Recent polling from UMass Amherst found that as many as 57% of 18–29 year olds and 42% of 30–54 year olds support reparations. (UMass Amherst.)
  • [Young people are staying liberal] 53% of millennials identify as Democrats — an increase from 51% ten years ago. (Data for Progress.) Millennial voters in the US are becoming slightly more liberal with age, rather than significantly more conservative as was common in prior generations.

Underscore that reparations is on the trajectory that other successful social movements have followed. While successful social movements do not always start out popular, they can quickly gain support by leveraging the right combination of tactics.

  • [Same-sex marriage support] Support for legalizing same-sex marriage grew 19% in just 15 years. (Pew.) Support was at just 27% in 1996 — lower than support for reparations is today (31%). It was only at that time that the concerted movement for marriage equality formed; by 2011, support reached 46% support. Just four years later, marriage equality was won in the courts.
  • One caveat is that changing minds about reparations is likely to be more complex. Anti-Black narratives are especially entrenched in American culture and history. Not only are they constantly weaponized in American politics; they prey on white people’s sense of a loss of status and place in America. Combating these forces will be particularly challenging.

Implications for future polling efforts

  • We need consistent polling on support for non-cash forms of reparations. There is a dearth of polling on support for non-cash payments (e.g., investments in communities like housing and loan forgiveness), despite many movement leaders prioritizing non-cash payments in their visions/demands for reparations.
  • We need more polling about what Black people want from reparations. There is limited research aggregating what Black communities want from comprehensive reparations or identifying points of contention within the Black community.
  • We need oversamples of states. There is no consistent state-level polling effort on reparations. State reparations leaders and advocates benefit from data about the level of support for reparations, which they can use to inform their advocacy efforts with elected officials. In addition, information about constituents’ preferences for the design of reparations programs can inform the design of recommendations and legislation.
  • We need more consistent polling about reparations for slavery and the legalized discrimination endured after the abolition of slavery, including racial terror, land theft, Jim Crow, and the War on Drugs. Virtually all polling to date focuses on slavery exclusively.

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Liberation Ventures

Liberation Ventures accelerates the Black-led movement for racial repair.