A new Gallup poll has found that almost half of Americans now say they are worried “a great deal” about race relations in the United States, which is higher than at any time since 2001 when Gallup began tracking the issue.
According to the poll, which was released Wednesday, 42 percent of people in the US are very worried over racial tensions, an increase of seven percentage points from 2016 and a record high in Gallup's 17-year trend.
This is the third straight year Americans' worries about racism have increased by a significant margin. In 2014, 17 percent said they worried a "great deal" about this issue; this climbed to 28 percent in 2015 and 35 percent in 2016.
The sharp rise in worry about racism likely stems from the racial tensions and national debate sparked by high-profile police killings of unarmed African American men and of black men shooting police in retaliation.
“The Black Lives Matter movement sprang up in 2013 to combat allegedly racist police shootings and attracted national attention in 2014 after police shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri,” Gallup said. “Movements such as Black Lives Matter have highlighted the precarious nature of black-white relations in the US.”
“Race relations or racism has emerged as one of the top issues on Gallup's most important problem list,” it added.
A Gallup poll one night after Barack Obama won the US presidency in 2009 found that 70 percent of Americans believed racial relations would improve because of his victory.
In 2010, early in Obama's presidency, the percentage who expressed a "great deal" of worry about race relations hit an all-time low of 13 percent, underscoring that Americans' worries about race relations have risen sharply over the past seven years.
US President Donald Trump’s divisive election campaign and controversial comments on racial matters before and after his election could also be a factor in Americans' heightened concern about race relations.
Critics say that Trump’s election has emboldened far-right groups and white supremacists and increased levels of xenophobia across the country.