Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas recently examined public opinions about Black Lives Matter, an activist movement founded in 2013 that has gained national attention in subsequent years.
The study, “Red States and Black Lives,” published in the journal Justice Quarterly, looked at whether factors such as race, age, education, political affiliation and geography predicted support or opposition to the movement.
“Our findings suggest that the Black Lives Matter movement is a politically polarizing issue,” said Dr. Alex R. Piquero, author of the study, Ashbel Smith Professor of criminology and associate dean of graduate programs in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
The study, one of the first to provide empirical evidence and insight into public opinion about Black Lives Matter, found that those most opposed to the movement were men, conservative or Republican individuals, and supporters of the death penalty.
The researchers, who analyzed a sample of 2,114 people — ranging in age from 18 to 94 — from a 2016 Pew Research Center report, also found high opposition to Black Lives Matter among older respondents. Men were 42 percent more likely to oppose the movement than women, and politically conservative individuals were 257 percent more likely to oppose it than moderate or liberal individuals. States with the highest levels of opposition included Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Minnesota.
Individuals who perceive the police treatment of blacks in their communities as unfair were 70 percent less likely to oppose the movement than those who did not have that perception, according to the research.
The results were consistent with the racial threat theory, which proposes that as the size of a minority group increases, the majority group will see it as a threat and take measures to maintain its control, Piquero said.
Piquero said the study’s findings are an important step toward gaining a better understanding of why the public is divided over Black Lives Matter. He said they also serve as a baseline for measuring attitudes about the movement over time, adding that documenting changes in public opinion provides critical data for researchers and policymakers.
“These statistics add to a growing body of knowledge over time that can be used to inform debate and eventually policy,” Piquero said.
The research was a collaboration between Piquero and three co-authors from Sam Houston State University, including Dr. Erin Orrick, who earned her PhD from UT Dallas in 2012 and who has worked closely with him since her graduate criminology studies at the University.
Piquero said the findings highlight the need for more research that can provide a deeper understanding of issues that have polarized the public.
“We all look at the world through different sets of glasses,” he said. “It’s important to find out why people either support or do not support this movement.”