The NFL Protesters Are Getting Their Message Across

Even if many Americans still don't like how they're doing it.
The San Francisco 49ers kneel and stand together while the national anthem plays prior to their game against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 8.
The San Francisco 49ers kneel and stand together while the national anthem plays prior to their game against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 8.
Michael Zagaris via Getty Images

The NFL players who have been kneeling during the national anthem as a way to protest police brutality aren’t winning any new fans, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. But they are, increasingly, making their point to the public.

Asked to identify from a list the main reason the players are protesting, a 57 percent majority of Americans surveyed said it was in response to “police violence.” That’s up from 48 percent in a HuffPost/YouGov poll taken in late September. (Respondents were allowed to select multiple options.)

The percentage of self-described football fans who say they believe the protests are meant to target police violence has risen to 66 percent, a 13-point increase.

Just 26 percent of the public now considers the protests to be in large part against President Donald Trump, down from 40 percent in the previous survey. As before, relatively few ― 14 percent in the latest poll and 12 percent in September ― agree with the Trump administration’s assertions that the protests are aimed at the American flag.


Notably, even people who don’t support the protests have grown more likely to see them as a response to police violence. And Trump voters, who in late September were more likely to see the protests as anti-Trump than anything else, also now say they’re mostly about police violence.

Americans’ overall opinions of the protests and Trump’s response to them have remained both unsparing and basically stagnant, according to the poll. They say, 49 percent to 36 percent, that the protests are inappropriate, effectively unchanged from the earlier survey.

A 52 percent majority currently disapproves of Trump’s response to the protests, with 38 percent approving. In the previous poll, those numbers stood at 54 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

The public takes a more positive view of the actions of Vice President Mike Pence, who left an NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers last weekend after several 49ers players knelt during the anthem. Forty-five percent of those polled approve of Pence’s decision to leave the game, with 41 percent disapproving.

Pence said in a tweet that he would “not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” The walkout reportedly may have cost taxpayers more than $88,000.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll is just one of several surveys to ask Americans to weigh in on the protests in recent weeks, and other surveys have shown a range of opinions.

Most find the protests themselves to be unpopular: In a CNN poll, for instance, respondents said by a 6-point margin that the athletes protesting were “doing the wrong thing.” In an HBO Real Sports/Marist poll, a slim majority favored requiring professional athletes to stand for the anthem.

One survey by USA Today and Suffolk University, however, found relatively strong support, with 51 percent calling the protests appropriate and just 42 percent believing they were inappropriate. That poll, unlike others, gave respondents a cue about the stated purpose of the protests, describing them as “bringing attention to police brutality and racial injustice.”

“A plurality of Americans don’t like the NFL protests — at least if they aren’t told what the players’ goals are,” FiveThirtyEight’s Kathryn Casteel wrote, summing up the latest polls.

That’s not too surprising: Americans tend not to like protests in general. But even though the athletes kneeling in protest aren’t winning over the public’s hearts, they seem to have gotten their attention.

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 Oct. 10-11 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.

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