Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations

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This book traces changes in American attitudes toward racial issues that have taken place between the 1940s and the 1980s—a crucial period that encompasses the civil rights revolution, the growth of black militancy and white resistance, and the enactment of affirmative-action legislation.

The authors are the first to compare data about black and white attitudes collected by three major survey organizations: Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Institute for Social Research. They make careful distinctions between attitudes toward principles of racial equality and attitudes toward government action to implement those principles. The wide research base and methodological sophistication of their analysis yield conclusions quite different from those of earlier, more narrowly drawn studies. For example, they find that while there has been a striking increase in support for principles of equality and fairness, support for some kinds of implementation of these ideals lags far behind or has even declined among both blacks and whites. The implementation measures considered range from busing to achieve integration of schools to laws requiring equal opportunity in employment. In addition to reanalyzing survey data, the authors have also performed several innovative experiments on the wording and context of survey questions to help them interpret the data more accurately.

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Editorial Reviews

American Journal of Sociology

Schuman, Steeh, and Bobo have performed a singular service. Social scientists, and citizens at large, interested in the American dilemma are in their debt: for the completeness of the record they have compiled of American racial attitudes over the past four decades, for the care and clarity with which they have presented that record, and for the objectivity and sophistication with which they have interpreted it. Their analysis of American racial attitudes is, of course, not complete; it is merely indispensable.
— Paul M. Sniderman

Journal of American Ethnic History

For anyone seeking to examine the evolution of American racial attitudes since the 1940s, this painstakingly precise book is the place to begin.
— David J. Garrow

The New York Review of Books

A significant study, easily the best in its field, underpinning its statistical analysis with a strong sense of history.
— Andrew Hacker

The Public Interest

A welcome arrival...Informative and reflective, Racial Attitudes in America will be immensely useful to anyone interested in contemporary social history, as well as race relations specifically.
— Abigail M. Thernstrom

Library Journal
Statistical studies are often anathema to humanists. Here is one, however, that is both readable and informative. Relying on poll data since 1942 and avoiding jargon, the authors paint a fascinating picture of white (and to a much lesser extent, black) racial attitudes. Their findings show that while white acceptance of the principles of racial justice and even social proximity has risen since 1942, acceptance of federal implementation of racial justice has remained steady or actually declined. Rich in both fact and theory, this work is recommended primarily for scholars in the field. Anthony O. Edmonds, History Dept., Ball State Univ., Muncie, Ind.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Howard Schuman is Professor of Sociology and Research Scientist, Emeritus, at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center.

Charlotte Steeh is Researcher in Survey Methodology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

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Table of Contents

Perspectives and Historical Background

Problems in Studying Changes in Racial Attitudes

Trends in White Racial Attitudes

Sources of Change in White Racial Attitudes

Trends in Black Racial Attitudes

Theoretical Interpretations of White Trends


Appendix A: Locating and Selecting Trend Questions

Appendix B: Statistical Testing Procedures



Index of Survey Questions


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