Americans are sharply divided over whether NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem are doing the right thing to express their views, but a majority agree that President Donald Trump did the wrong thing by criticizing their actions, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.
Overall, 49% say the protesting players are doing the wrong thing to express their political opinion when they kneel during the National Anthem, while 43% say it’s the right thing. Those views are sharply divided by race, partisanship and age.
Among whites, 59% say the players are doing the wrong thing while 82% of blacks say it’s the right thing to do. Almost 9 in 10 Republicans say it’s the wrong thing (87%) while just about three-quarters of Democrats say the opposite (72%). And most younger Americans call it the right thing (56% among those under age 45) while a majority of older Americans say it’s wrong (59% among those age 45 or older).
Six in 10 Americans say that Trump did the wrong thing by criticizing those players, however, including 51% of whites, 97% of blacks and majorities of Democrats (86%) and independents (61%). Among Republicans, 23% called it the wrong thing to do, and even 32% of those who think the players are doing the wrong thing disagree with Trump’s criticizing them.
The public is also closely divided over whether professional sports leagues should require their players to stand during the National Anthem, as Trump has called for — 49% say yes, 47% no. There has been a massive shift since last fall on this question among blacks. In a poll conducted by Marist for HBO Real Sports last fall, 42% of African-Americans said players should be required to stand; now, that stands at just 13%. Views among whites and Hispanics have largely held steady.
The poll suggests Trump’s highlighting of the issue could have repercussions for the NFL generally. Almost a quarter of Americans (24%) say they plan to boycott the NFL’s games, broadcasts or products as a result of these protests, and that rises to 50% among Trump’s supporters — those who approve of his handling of the presidency. Among Republicans, 45% say they plan to boycott as do 25% of independents and 10% of Democrats. Those who say they are current fans of the NFL are somewhat less apt to back a boycott (20%).
Americans’ divisions over these protests extend to perceptions of what the protests mean. While 46% say protesting during the anthem is disrespectful to the freedoms that the anthem represents, an almost equal 45% say such protests demonstrate those freedoms.
About half (51%) say Trump chose to criticize protesting athletes because he believes these protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful, but 31% say he was motivated by disagreement with the players’ views on racism in America.
More generally, 6 in 10 say celebrity protests are at least somewhat effective, but more (66%) say protests by everyday Americans are that effective.
The controversy hasn’t prompted a steep decline in views of Trump’s handling of the presidency or race relations more generally. Overall, 37% approve of his work as President; that stood at 40% in a CNN poll conducted before he raised the issue at a rally for then-Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange a week ago. His steepest decline has come among younger Americans, with his approval rating dropping 8 points among this group since last week.
Overall, 63% disapprove of the way he’s handling race relations; that’s up slightly from 59% disapproval in the previous poll.
And there hasn’t been a large shift in the share who see Trump as distracted from the nation’s most important problems. About 6 in 10 say Trump hasn’t paid enough attention to those issues now, the same as in an early-August CNN poll.
The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS by telephone September 26-28 among a random national sample of 1,037 adults. The margin of sampling error for results among the full sample is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.