Americans Don't Like The NFL Protests, But They Really Don't Like Trump's Response

Trump voters share the president's fury about the protests. Few others feel as strongly.

Americans dislike the recent protests by NFL players, but disapprove even more solidly of President Donald Trump’s response, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey ― which finds the nation split deeply along racial lines, but even more severely along political ones.

Those polled say, 48 percent to 36 percent, that it’s inappropriate for NFL players to kneel in protest during the national anthem. Among those who find it inappropriate, 8 percent think the players should find a different way to protest during games, 76 percent that they should only protest in private life, and 13 percent that they should not protest at all.

Fewer, however, see the issue as a major concern. Just 43 percent of Americans call the protests even a somewhat serious problem, with just a quarter considering it “very serious.” And, as a previous survey also suggested, few agree with Trump’s call to “fire or suspend” players who take part. Just 30 percent of Americans think players who kneel in protest should be fired.

Views of Trump’s reactions to the protests ― which included not only the call to fire protesting players but also a barrage of enraged tweets ― are more solidly negative among the American public than its views of the protests themselves. A majority of the public, 54 percent, disapproves of his response, with 42 percent strongly disapproving. Just over a third approve.

Sept. 25, 2017; Glendale, Ariz., Dallas Cowboys players kneel together with their arms locked prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Sept. 25, 2017; Glendale, Ariz., Dallas Cowboys players kneel together with their arms locked prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
USA Today Sports / Reuters

Players began kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality against black Americans. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, suggested Monday that their message had become muddled, saying that if “the debate is really for them about police brutality,” athletes should protest police officers “instead of the American flag.”

Just 12 percent of Americans, however, think that the players’ decision to kneel means that they’re protesting against the American flag. Instead, asked to select which issues they thought the protesters were mostly taking a stand against, 48 percent of respondents chose police violence, with 40 percent saying the players were protesting Trump.

Black Americans, who are more likely than whites to identify the controversy as a response to police violence, take a far more supportive view of the protests overall. White Americans are 53 points likelier than black Americans to find the protests inappropriate, 34 points likelier to consider the protests at least a somewhat serious problem, and 23 points likelier to support firing those who kneel.

But as the survey shows, there’s often a significantly wider gap between voters who backed Trump in last year’s elections, and those who supported Hillary Clinton. That gulf is driven largely by Trump voters’ particular level of ire at the protest, which dwarfs the responses of most other Americans.

A near-universal 94 percent of Trump voters find the NFL protests inappropriate (for comparison, that’s several points higher than the percentage of Trump voters who currently approve of Trump’s overall performance as president). The majority say that football players choosing to kneel constitutes a “very serious problem,” and that it justifies their being fired.

That’s likely in part because they’re following Trump’s lead in taking umbrage. But the protests may also feed into the identity politics that are key to some of the president’s core supporters.

“There is a unique resentment there that Trump is tapping,” George Washington University political scientist Corrine McConnaughy wrote Saturday, pointing to research she’d conducted on the response to hypothetical protests by various racial and gender groups. White conservatives, she found, were especially likely to consider a protest inappropriate if it was described as being carried out by black men. “In sum: Trump has good reasons to believe the attack on black NFL players protesting is perfect fodder.”

One thing about the protests garners agreement across demographic lines: they’ve dominated the news. Sixty-one percent of Americans ― including a majority in every party and racial group ― said they’d heard more about the NFL protests than the GOP’s fight to repeal Obamacare or the catastrophic storm damage in Puerto Rico.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Sept. 25-26 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that 57 percent of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s responses to the NFL protests. The correct number is 54 percent.

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