Social Media: Media – Social Trends

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Social Media: Media – Social Trends

Case 1: Understanding Social Trends

Since 1995, Ethridge & Associates, L.L.C. has had the privilege of serving the Memphis area’s largest newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, in conducting numerous custom designed polls on a wide variety of social and issues. As one example, in 1998, as our nation approached the 40- year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, we were asked to conduct a scientific poll of the Mid-South region to assess public perceptions and attitudes about whether and to what extent the area has made progress in racial relations. One of the many articles that the newspaper published on this poll is copied below from their website:

Poll shows many think race relations making headway

By Jacinthia Jones

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Residents in the region where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated nearly 40 years ago see great progress in civil rights and race relations. But huge differences persist between blacks and whites in many areas.

A poll of racial attitudes commissioned by The Commercial Appeal found a majority of people in Shelby and DeSoto counties — both black and white — were optimistic about race relations and believe the races are getting along better today.

Specifically, 88 percent of black respondents and 91 percent of white respondents believe progress has been made on the civil-rights front.

And 74 percent of all respondents feel blacks and whites are getting along better than in the past, according to a telephone poll of 400 residents in the two counties conducted this month by Ethridge and Associates LLC.

“We noticed a lot of positive things,” said former University of Memphis communications professor Dr. John Bakke, who was a consultant on the poll. “There are clear differences on issues (between blacks and whites), but things are not as racially polarized as one might think.”

An overwhelming majority of both races, for example, believe those in the other race should stop dwelling on the past and recognize the progress that has been made.

But a definite divide emerges on a number of issues. Some of the biggest gaps between black and white poll respondents are:

More blacks said they experienced discrimination in the last year than whites (40 percent to 28 percent).

Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to say racism plays a big part in a lack of good-paying jobs.

Similarly, half of blacks polled believe the criminal-justice system is biased against blacks, compared to just one-quarter of whites. By comparison, nearly half of whites think the criminal-justice system is unbiased, compared to just one-quarter of blacks.

Twice as many blacks favor affirmative-action programs as a means of overcoming past discrimination. Conversely, nearly half of whites, compared to just one-tenth of blacks, opposed such programs.

Both races believe racism is a two-way street.

Whites believe nearly half of blacks are racist, while blacks think almost as many whites are racist. Looking inwardly, whites were more likely to perceive a higher percentage of their own race as racist than blacks.

However, whites are more likely than blacks to consider racism to be a “very big” or “big” problem (65percent to 46percent).

The single most unifying issue between blacks and whites polled was crime, with both groups pegging it as a bigger problem than racism.

Out of six social issues respondents were asked to rank, crime topped the list, with 76 percent ranking it as a “very big” or “big” problem. Under this same measure, racism came in a distant fourth — tied with quality of public education and behind concerns about children born to single mothers (second) and students dropping out of high school (third). Rounding out the list was concern about the lack of good-paying jobs.

Still, Bakke said that doesn’t mean people don’t think racism is a problem.

“The majority of people do see that racism is a part of all the other problems,” he said. “So the solution to the other problems have to deal with racism. You can’t separate them, particularly in this population with the history here.”

Another finding of the poll highlighted wide economic disparities between blacks and whites in Shelby and DeSoto counties.

Black households had far lower income levels; 76 percent of black households polled reported incomes less than $60,000 annually, while 58 percent of white households reported incomes of more than $60,000 per year.

Despite the disparities in their economic conditions, both races — a full 95 percent — expressed satisfaction with their lives here. That contentment encompasses even those who believed that race relations are getting worse and that things have gotten worse for black people since King was killed.

Although not a statistically significant difference, slightly more blacks said they are “very satisfied” with their lives than whites (62 percent to 59 percent).

“Blacks see themselves as far better off than they’re often perceived,” pollster Steven Ethridge concluded.

Dr. Bill E. Lawson, who teaches African-American social and political philosophy at the University of Memphis, attributes a lot of the upbeat attitude to the affordability of the area.

“This area seems to afford people a good quality of life. When people are happy with that and their social interaction is pleasant, then they tend to feel good.”

And in a region where issues of race seem to permeate nearly every aspect of life, blacks and whites in the Memphis area seemed generally more optimistic about the state of race relations than the nation in general.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center last November found that just 20 percent of black Americans and 37 percent of white Americans felt things were better for blacks now than five years ago.

Comparatively, in the CA’s poll, 77 percent of blacks and 73 percent of whites in Shelby and DeSoto counties believed black people in Memphis and the Mid-South were better off than five years ago.

Ethridge said the local numbers are probably a truer reflection of race relations, partly because here — unlike many other areas of the country — blacks and whites are both in large numbers and interact with each other daily.

Perceptions of people in many cities are often shaped by how the national media portrays race relations, rather than through personal experience.

“I don’t want to come off as Pollyannish here,” Bakke said, “but I do believe that Memphis has an inferiority complex and beats itself up too much.”

The poll findings suggest that there’s a strong element of goodwill here that people should tap into rather than focusing on the negatives, he said.

“I really think that the racism in many ways is like smoking — it’s really become unfashionable, not popular (and is) rapidly diminishing. However, the fact that it’s diminishing makes it even more painful when we’re reminded that it isn’t gone.

“Now, when we do run into it, it hits us in the face.”

– Jacinthia Jones: 529-2780

© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

Other articles on this topic that feature our poll results can be found here.

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