Racial Justice

UMass poll shows Americans split over feelings on reparations, BLM

“For opponents of reparations, it is not about the cost or the difficulty of the policy, but about perceptions of the worthiness."

Karina Gomes carries a Black Live Matter sign during a Mass Action Against Police Brutality demonstration in Boston on Sept. 26, 2020. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A recent nationwide poll, conducted by UMass Amherst and WCVB, found that nearly half of those surveyed “definitely” didn’t believe descendants of people enslaved in the U.S. should receive reparations payments from the government, and another 16% said they “probably” shouldn’t.

On top of that,  many of those who don’t believe payments should be made to descendants of enslaved people say it’s because they don’t believe those descendants deserve them.

“For opponents of reparations, it is not about the cost or the difficulty of the policy, but about perceptions of the worthiness of the contemporary recipients of cash payments,” Tatishe Nteta, an associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst, and director of the 1,000-person poll, said in a press release.

This poll is one of two recently released discussing the Black Lives Matter movement. The other, conducted by 7 News and Emerson College, focused on Boston.


In the UMass poll, which has a margin of error of 3.4 percent, 46 percent of respondents said the government “definitely should not” pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people. When asked why not, those who said they do not deserve them accounted for 38 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, 25 percent objected on the grounds that they don’t believe it’s possible to place a cash value on slavery’s impact.

When it came to Black Lives Matter, 36 percent said they “strongly oppose” BLM’s strategies and tactics, while 21 percent said they “strongly support” them and 19 percent said they “somewhat support” them. When asked about the goals of BLM, 33 percent said they “strongly support” them, while the response with the next highest percentage was “strongly oppose” at 28 percent.

When asked to describe the events following George Floyd’s murder last summer, and given a list of pre-selected words to choose from, 67 percent described it as a “protest.” The next highest amount of votes went to “riot” at 60 percent and “looting” at 56 percent.

When asked to describe the people who participated in the summer 2020 events, and given a list of pre-selected words, “protestors” garnered the most votes at 63 percent with “rioters” receiving the second highest at 56 percent.


Looking at the Boston-centric poll of 860 people from 7 News and Emerson College, a full 64 percent of respondents said that systemic racism as “very/somewhat serious.”

When asked about Black Lives Matter, half of Bostonians said they view the movement “very positively.” The response to get the second highest amount of votes was “very negatively” at 23 percent.

“Obviously when you use the phrase Black Lives Matter it’s going to invoke a lot more passion and feelings from people than when we [just] talk about systemic racism, and we see that in those numbers,” Spencer Kimball, Emerson’s polling director, said, according to 7 News.

Get Boston.com's browser alerts:

Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.



This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com