CBS News reports a poll!


"Overwhelming" v. "flat-out insane:" CBS News conducted a survey as part of Black History Month.

 Choosing to see the glass mostly full, a pair of CBS scribes offered this as part of the network's report:

BACKUS AND SALVANTO (2/23/22): ...Americans do overwhelmingly believe racism has been a problem in U.S. history. 

Big majorities also believe racism continues to be a problem today. 

To the extent that this view is voiced by a smaller majority than the one that says racism was a problem in history, we find some who see it having moved from a major problem in the past to a lesser one now. They also believe the U.S. has made progress in dealing with racism.

According to that bracing prose, Americans overwhelmingly believe that racism has been (was?) a problem in our American history.

By a smaller majority, Americans also say that racism is a problem today. On balance, people seem to think that the U.S. has made progress in this area!

(You can see the actual numbers as part of the Backus/Salvano report.)

That's the report which was composed by CBS News itself. But when Kevin Drum reviewed the CBS survey, he adopted a much different tone.

He showed the numbers from the CBS survey concerning racism 1) as a problem in American history, and 2) as a problem today. At that point, he voiced his astonishment in the following way:

DRUM (2/23/22): A lot of people apparently think that racism is no big thing anymore. But put that aside for a moment. A full 29% believe that racism was never a big deal.

That's not just a difference of opinion, that's flat out insane. But what's the cause? Is it mostly due to people wildly underestimating the effect of racism? Or is it due to an almost unbelievable ignorance of US history? I would really, really love to see a deeper dive into this.

At CBS, the reporters had stressed the overwhelming way Americans agreed that racism was a problem in our American history. Drum took a different tack.

Accurately, he noted the fact that 29% of respondents said that racism was never a major problem. He said that this response was "flat out insane."

At CBS, Backus and Salvanto had seen the glass "overwhelmingly" full. Drum saw the glass so empty that it was "flat out insane."

Here's your chance to decide for yourself! For starters, here's the specific wording of the question, and the overall responses:

Looking back over the history of America, do you think racism has been...
A major problem: 71%
A minor problem: 22%
Not a problem: 7% 

As you can see, 93% of respondents said that racism had been at least a minor problem in the history of the country. CBS called that response "overwhelming." Only 7% said that racism hadn't been a problem at all.

On the other hand, 29% of respondents said that racism wasn't a major problem in our national history. Drum called that "flat-out insane."

For what it's worth, that's the kind of dumbbell survey question we'd be disinclined to answer just on general principles. That said, we think you might want to ponder the following points:

In comments to Drum's post, commenters began competing to see who could better insult The Others. Before long, we had such comments as these:

COMMENT: Meh. Our biggest mistake was not utterly and thoroughly destroying the Confederacy when we had the chance. It never died nor did it really lose. Moving to Tennessee has taught me that and more. Up north where I grew up, you hear stories about how the south never really admitted defeat. Down here it breathes all day and all night.


COMMENT: I must be missing something here, because the answer seems so obvious to me. Who would think racism isn't a problem and never really was much of one? People who don't give a damn what happens to those *other* people, because those other people either had it coming to them, or they're exaggerating their suffering to get more from the government. More, more, more. In other words, these respondents are out and out racists.

The 29 percent were out and out racists. That said, we'll now include a few statistics Kevin, for whatever reason, didn't include in his post.

As Paul Harvey used to say, now for the rest of the story! Broken down by race, respondents had answered as shown:

Looking back over the history of America, do you think racism has been...
A major problem: 71% (White: 69%; Black: 83%)
A minor problem: 22% (White: 25%; Black: 13%)
Not a problem: 7% (White: 7%; Black: 4%)

It's true! Overall, 32% of respondents said that racism wasn't a major problem in our American history. But it wasn't just white respondents who answered that way. For whatever reason, 17% of black respondents answered that way too.

Racism wasn't a major problem in American history? 29% of white respondents answered that way, but 17% of black respondents answered that way too. Our suggestion would be this:

People have very unusual ways of understanding and analyzing such topics and such questions. If you asked respondents to explain their responses, you'd hear some explanations that you'd never thought of before, that possibly didn't make sense.

(Wittgenstein: "If a lion could talk, we couldn't understand him.")

People don't always sift reality the way we know they should.  At some point, you have to make a basic decision:

Do I like people, or not?


  1. Republicans despise liberals, and they treat Republican voters with slightly less disdain.

  2. "If you asked respondents to explain their responses, you'd hear some explanations that you'd never thought of before, that possibly didn't make sense."

    Or, dear Bob, they could actually make a lot of sense.

    For example, along the lines of what we heard from Mrs Goldberg recently (but in a more conceptual way), all that shit in the past, all that shit that you choose to call 'racism', can be viewed as 'thing people do to other people'.

    That's the essence. And the ways people justify the shit they do to other people, that's minor, secondary. It could be the way you look, religion of your grandparents -- or it could be something completely different: the way you think, for example. If what you, dear Bob, call 'racism' completely 100% disappeared, people would still be doing the same shit to each other.

    1. You can legally can get away with doing shit to certain people, due to racism.

  3. Accusations of bigotry make weak people feel powerful. They could care less about the minority groups in question.

    1. The Right are morons, not evil. Part the one-million.

    2. Life is hard and a lot of people feel powerless. A lot of people don't have access to effective ways to deal with their feelings of powerlessness and are left to their own devices. Some of them choose groups of people whom they identify as powerless and go about defending them against other groups they see as powerful as a way to deal with their frustrated lack of power and the low self-esteem that has come with it.

    3. Others lash out on the more marginalized to make them feel better.
      Think of someone who has had multiple corporate bankruptcies, for instance. They can't accept responsibility for what they wrought, so they blame it on others who they think of as lessers.

  4. Scott Adams has a theory that for every survey, about 25% of the responses are nonsense. These results follow his theory.

    1. I have a theory about Scott Adams but I'll keep it to myself.

  5. Where's Rationalist?
    I was hoping he'd give me the moderates/ centrists take, and whose side they are on in the Russian Ukraine invasion.
    He already intimated that "Centrists tend to want to avoid talking points and focus on the facts, an evidentiary-based model instead of ideological", so I assume they all agree. I'm just trying to find out what it is they agree on in this instance.

    1. Is your logic that there are only two sides to be on?

  6. There is something majorly wrong with asking white people to decide how big a problem racism has been for black people.

  7. I don't have to like all people, neither does anyone else.

  8. The way that social scientists deal with human variability is via statistics. Thet do not consider every answer valid or informative. They take the central tendency and use that to characterize response, ignoring the outliers. If Somerby and Drum aren't willing to do that, then they aren't going to find any research satisfactory. But in deciding that, they are going against the methodology used in actual research and making foolish judgments, like Somerby's when he says that who you pay attention to in a poll determines whether you like people or not. Finding out what people tend to do doesn't rely on liking or disliking them. It depends on curiosity.

  9. Education is not valued enough in America. It's a way to select a handful of geniuses and put them to work in business. The Carnegie corporation helped influence this policy, as did the supreme court in 1980 when it ruled schools could break unions, no more democracy baby. In fact, Thomas Jefferson didn't want everyone educated. He wanted to "rake the coal." Grab some smart students and the rest of us are just fuel for profits.

    1. More accurately the court ruled that schools could stop unions from forming by relabeling the working teachers as management.