The Morning Jolt


Dwindling Confidence in U.S. Race Relations

A crowd of over a thousand people kneel and chant at a rally on Woodward Avenue in Birmingham, Mich., to protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, June 7, 2020. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

On the menu today: A new survey finds that most Americans are increasingly concerned about racial discrimination and racism in the U.S., some thoughts on the importance of Catholic education as politicians refuse to let private schools reopen, and a little good news from one of the trials for a possible COVID-19 vaccine.

A Majority of Americans Believes Race Relations in the U.S. Are Poor

In a new survey from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, a slim majority of respondents (56 percent) said they believe American society is racist. About 71 percent of respondents said race relations in the U.S. are either very bad or fairly bad, a figure that has risen by 16 points since February.

There’s a lot worth exploring in the new poll, which surveyed 900 registered voters from July 9 to July 12 and gives us probably the best concrete data we’ve gotten yet on the way Americans have responded to the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent unrest that has unfolded over the last few months.

One of the most interesting points in the poll is the stark gaps in the way Americans see these issues across the political spectrum. Almost all Democrats (90 percent) said they believe black people are discriminated against, but only a quarter of Republicans said the same. Eighty-two percent of Democrats, meanwhile, say that American society is racist, and only 30 percent of Republicans agreed. Interestingly, independents come down much closer to Republicans on that question; just 45 percent of independents believe American society is racist.

On the question of Confederate statues, respondents have become a bit more hostile than they’ve been in the past, but their views actually remained fairly complex. A bare majority (51 percent) of all respondents said they’d support removing these statues from public property, and 47 percent would leave them in place. But their detailed positions are much more nuanced than that.

Only 10 percent of respondents said the statues ought to be removed and destroyed, while about 40 percent would move them to museums, about 30 percent would keep them where they are and add plaques to explain their history more adequately, and about 15 percent would leave them exactly as they are. Even so, the percentage of Americans who would prefer to remove the monuments has risen by 16 points since August 2018.

On another hot-button question, kneeling during the national anthem before sporting events, voters have moved in a similar direction. A very slim majority (52 percent) now says it is appropriate for athletes to kneel during the national anthem, an increase of nine points since 2018. Today, 45 percent of Americans said they still believe it is inappropriate to kneel.

Here’s some of the Journal’s analysis of more data points from the survey:

Voters remain split on the root cause of racism and how to address racial bias and discrimination.

A majority of Black voters in the survey, 65%, said that people of color experience racial discrimination because it is built into American society, including U.S. policies and institutions. By contrast, a plurality of white voters, 48%, attributed racial discrimination to individuals who hold racist views, as opposed to institutions and society as a whole.

Views of the Black Lives Matter movement also differ by race. Among Black voters, 76% hold a positive view of the movement, while views were almost evenly divided among white voters, with 42% holding a positive view and 39% a negative one.

Overall, about half of voters see the movement in a positive light, up from 38% in 2016.

Three-quarters of voters said they were encouraged that the country is addressing longstanding issues of racism in society. At the same time, half said they were concerned that the protests over racial issues are creating social unrest and bringing too much change to the country, including erasing America’s history and significant figures in it.

Finally, the survey has some disappointing news for President Trump’s reelection campaign: A little less than two-thirds of voters disapprove of the way the president has handled race relations, while one-third approves. About half of respondents said they think expressing racist views has become more acceptable during the time Trump has been in office.

As is always the case with public-opinion polling, these statistics shouldn’t be taken as the Gospel truth about what American society really thinks or will continue to think in the long run. Especially with this particular poll, we know it was taken in the midst of ongoing, sustained, intense social unrest over the issues being considered in survey questions. So while it’s a helpful barometer for how Americans have reacted to the events of the last few months, there’s not much reason to think these positions are necessarily exactly where they will fall on the same questions later on down the road.

In other words, something clearly has shifted in how Americans think about race relations in the U.S. as a result of this spring and early summer, but it’s much too soon to know for sure how stable those changes really are.

Catholic Schools Are More Important Than You Might Think

Lots of Americans and lots of our institutions and businesses are suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, so there are plenty of complaints and concerns to go around these days. But one issue that deserves more attention than it’s gotten is the plight of private schools, especially religious ones, as government officials mull whether they will let children return to classrooms in the fall (i.e. as officials wrangle with teachers’ unions over whether teachers will return to classrooms in the fall).

One huge casualty of the uncertainty and financial loss has been Catholic schools, 90 of which across the country have announced plans over the last few months to close their doors for good, primarily because contributions they rely on have declined in the recession. Many of these schools already were struggling financially, often barely getting by from year to year, and now they don’t have the money even to pay their teachers or provide the aid they had been accustomed to giving out in student scholarships.

For more detail on the many ways in which Catholic schools contribute to American society, this excellent article by Nicole Stelle Garnett in the latest issue of City Journal has everything you need to know, and it highlights the importance of finding ways to craft policy enabling these schools to continue operating even during the pandemic.

In an editorial yesterday evening, the Wall Street Journal editorial board zeroed in on California, where progressive governor Gavin Newsom has declared that no schools, whether public or private, will be permitted to open until the state determines that it’s safe to do so. Here’s some of what the Journal had to say:

Large school districts including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco had already announced plans to do virtual instruction this fall. But Orange County and some smaller districts — many of which have experienced a surge of new students in recent months as families have fled cities for suburbs — were planning to bring kids back to classrooms.

So were many religious schools including those in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “Our goal is to strike a balance between preventing the spread of COVID-19 and providing children with the education, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health benefits provided through the reopening of Catholic schools,” the Archdiocese Superintendent of Schools Paul Escala recently said. . . .

Most parents who send their kids to Catholic schools aren’t wealthy, and many aren’t even Catholic. They scrimp and save to provide their kids with a quality education that includes religious values, as well as the discipline and civility that are often missing in public schools. While public schools have a monopoly, Catholic schools have to compete for students.

This in part explains why Catholic schools such as those in Los Angeles were preparing to reopen campuses this fall even as local public schools planned to keep kids at home. Teachers unions claim schools can’t afford to reopen safely without a deus ex cashina from Congress.

But on average tuition at Catholic schools runs between $1,000 and $4,000 less than what states spend per pupil to educate kids at public schools. If Catholic schools could find a way to open safely, what excuse do public schools have for staying closed?

In its conclusion, the editorial board called on Congress to use its next iteration of stimulus spending to establish that only districts and schools that go back to in-classroom schooling this fall will be eligible for federal funding. My proposal a few months back was that Congress establish a federal voucher program of some kind at least for the length of the pandemic, enabling families that have chosen private schools to continue making that choice even during the recession, possibly staving off some of these permanent closures that we’re witnessing.

A Sliver of Good News from a Vaccine Trial

These days, it always feels as if any positive news reports must be too good to be true, but nonetheless, an early trial of one of the new potential COVID-19 vaccines gives us reason to have a little hope. According to data from a human trial of Oxford University’s vaccine candidate, developed in collaboration with AstraZeneca, hundreds of participants showed a strong immune response. Our Mairead McArdle has more:

[The] trial . . . involved 1,077 people and caused an immune response in people aged 18 to 55 that lasted two months or slightly longer, according to data published Monday by the medical journal The Lancet. The vaccine, which is made from a combination of coronavirus genetic material and a virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees, caused the body to produce antibodies against the coronavirus and caused a reaction in T-cells, a type of white blood cell that also helps stave off infection.

“We are seeing good immune response in almost everybody,” said Dr. Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, which focuses on developing vaccines. “What this vaccine does particularly well is trigger both arms of the immune system.”

We’ll have to wait a little longer for more details though, as another trial of the vaccine with about 10,000 participants is ongoing, and they are planning to conduct still another with the participation of about 30,000 Americans. As these trials unfold, AstraZeneca is manufacturing 2 billion doses that can be distributed publicly if the subsequent trials go well.

ADDENDUM: It’s not just here in the Morning Jolt that I occasionally pinch hit for the incomparable Jim Geraghty; I’ll also be stepping into his shoes and joining his cohost Greg Corombos over on the Three Martini Lunch podcast later today. But don’t let that discourage you from tuning in!


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