UMass Amherst/WCVB Poll Finds Nearly Half of Americans Say the Federal Government Definitely Should Not Pay Reparations to the Descendants of Slaves

The poll also surveyed respondents about their views of the Black Lives Matter movement, the future racial makeup of the country, and possible D.C. and Puerto Rican statehood
Tatishe Nteta
Tatishe Nteta

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at

AMHERST, Mass. – Nearly two-thirds of Americans and 90% of Republicans oppose the idea of providing reparations to the descendants of slaves, according to the results of a nationwide University of Massachusetts Amherst/WCVB poll released today.

“Four hundred years since Africans were forcibly brought to the shores of America, 245 years since the 3/5th Compromise and 156 years since freed African Americans were promised 40 acres and a mule, a majority of Americans express an unwillingness to pay the descendants of slaves for the nation’s original sin,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll.

Sixty-two percent of the poll’s respondents oppose the idea of reparations, and nearly half (46%) say the federal government “definitely should not” make cash payments to the descendants of slaves. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Democrats and 86% of African Americans support the idea of compensating slaves’ descendants, while only 28% of whites support reparations.

“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,” Nteta says.

“Disturbingly – and in spite of indisputable evidence of the continuing effects of slavery and Jim Crow on blacks – the primary stated reason for this opposition is the perception that descendants of enslaved people are not deserving of reparations,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll.

While 6% of those opposed say such a program would be too expensive, 13% say it would be too difficult to administer and 25% say it is impossible to place a value on slavery’s impact. Meanwhile, 38% say the descendants simply do not deserve reparations for their ancestor’s struggles. Another 18% say reparations should not be paid because they say African Americans are treated equally in society today. Nearly half of the Republicans (46%) who oppose reparations say African Americans do not deserve them, and 25% say they are treated equally and therefore should not receive cash payments.

“In explaining their opposition to reparations, Americans view the descendants of slaves as unworthy of payment or the plight of their forefathers and mothers,” Nteta says. “For supporters of reparations, the next stage in the fight may be the education of the public regarding the continuing legacy and impact of slavery on the African American community.

“For the minority of Americans who indicated support for reparations, they view the institution of slavery as uniquely responsible for the contemporary socioeconomic inequalities between African Americans and whites,” he says. “And while a majority of Americans express trepidation at paying the descendants of slaves, the future may be bright for the movement as a strong majority of Americans aged 18-29 express support for reparations.”

Majority Minority Nation

The poll of 1,000 respondents conducted April 21-23 also asked respondents about their views of African Americans, Latinos, multi-racial Americans and people of Asian descent possibly outnumbering whites in the U.S. in the next 30 years, as the Census Bureau expects.

“Overall, Americans express ambivalence about the emergence of a majority-minority nation in the coming decades,” Rhodes says, referring to the 47% plurality of respondents who assert that the new makeup of the nation will be neither good nor bad for the country. “However, it’s really whites who have concerns. Only 29% of whites think that increasing diversity is good for the country, compared with strong majorities of Blacks (61%), Latinx (54%) and Asian Americans (69%). White anxiety about their impending minority status almost certainly contributes to their support for tough immigration policies, stringent requirements for voting, and skepticism toward ‘big government’ policies they believe unfairly favor communities of color.”

Black Lives Matter

The poll also asked respondents to select the words that best described the events that followed the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last summer, as well as whether they support the strategies, tactics and goals of the Black Lives Matter movement in general.

“With images of the large scale non-violent protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd shown alongside incidents of violent interactions with police and the destruction of private property and business by a minority of protesters, it is no surprise that Americans describe the Black Lives Matter movement as protest (67%), followed by a riot (60%) and looting (56%),” Nteta says. “Historically, social movements led by African Americans have not received support from Americans, and the Black Lives Matter movement is no different. After the death of George Floyd and almost weekly reports of police killings of African Americans, less than a majority of Americans (48%) support the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

“Popular support for the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement is noticeably stronger than support for its strategy and tactics (40%),” says Rhodes. “This likely reflects many Americans’ ambivalence about protests and other forms of direct action that can lead to confrontations with police or counter-demonstrators. Many Americans, and particularly whites and those who identify as conservatives and Trump voters, negatively evaluate assertive political activities, particularly when they are performed by people of color.”

Comparing the BLM movement to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by thousands of supporters of former President Trump on January 6, 2021, Nteta says, “It’s a tale of two movements. While Republicans describe the events of January 6th as a ‘protest’, Democrats were more likely to see these events as ‘riot.’ However, when describing the events of the summer of 2020, Democrats describe the Black Lives Matter movement as ‘protest’ while Republicans label the movement as a ‘riot.’”

D.C. and Puerto Rican Statehood

“We find that there are popular pluralities in support of statehood for Washington, D.C. (44%) and Puerto Rico (47%), with another quarter of Americans on the fence and possibly persuadable,” says Rhodes. “However, Republicans are ardently opposed to statehood for either territory. Clearly, Republicans fear that statehood for these territories would shift the partisan balance in presidential and congressional elections to Democrats.”

“For decades, the residents of Washington, D.C., have decried their status as second-class citizens in the United States who, like the American colonists, experience taxation without representation,” Nteta says. “The movement to make Washington, D.C., a state has begun to resonate with the American public as a plurality of Americans express support, with close to 1-in-3 strongly supporting making D.C. the 51st state.”

“The current Congress may not approve of statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico, but roughly half of young people support it and few are opposed compared to older Americans,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “As these Americans gain center stage in American politics, it is only matter of time before statehood is offered to these jurisdictions.”


This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 1,000 respondents nationwide was conducted April 21-23 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 1,151 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 1,000 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the full 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year sample with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements, using the person weights on the public use file.

The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education, and region. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The weights were then post-stratified on 2016 Presidential vote choice, and a four-way stratification of gender, age (4-categories), race (4-categories) and education (4-categories) to produce the final weight.

The margin of error within this poll is 3.4%.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at