What Race Tells Us About Anti-Government Attitudes
We might expect black Americans to show more distrust toward government relative to other racial and ethnic groups. Why? Consider just a few trends since the 1980s: persistently high levels of black unemployment, rising to Depression-like numbers in many urban areas during the Great Recession; increasingly punitive criminal justice policies and the disproportionate imprisonment of minority offenders; a reneged government commitment to addressing inequality and poverty, as seen in welfare reform and the declining real value of the minimum wage; and an ongoing failure to provide equal access to high-quality public education, whether K-12 or higher. The federal government has either aided and abetted these trends (the “war on drugs,” mass incarceration) or failed to respond to crises that have ravaged black communities (unemployment, HIV/AIDS, Hurricane Katrina).
Yet it turns out that in the Obama era, blacks have about twice the level of trust in government compared with whites and Latinos. According to a 2010 Pew poll, only two in ten whites “trust the government in Washington to do what is right” either always or most of the time, compared with roughly four in ten blacks. When asked in the same poll whether the “federal government threatens your own personal rights and freedoms,” one in three whites thinks it is a “major threat,” compared with nearly one in four blacks. These racially divergent attitudes extend a much longer trend in which blacks, while not necessarily trusting government more, have tended to invest more hope in it.