A majority of U.S. voters say that National Football League players who kneel in protest during the national anthem are not unpatriotic, according to a new poll released Thursday.
By a 58 percent to 35 percent margin, those surveyed in a Quinnipiac University poll voiced disagreement with the notion that players who, during games, protest police shootings of unarmed black men are disrespectful of America. A majority of voters, 53 percent, also offered support for athletes’ right to protest on their playing fields and courts, while 43 percent expressed opposition.
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The findings were sharply divided along partisan lines. Seventy percent of Republicans called NFL players kneeling unpatriotic and 81 percent said they did not have a right to protest during games, while 85 percent and 82 percent of Democrats disagreed, respectively.
Demographically, voters largely agreed the protests are not disrespectful of the country, with the sentiment mustering a majority across genders, racial groups, education levels and ages. But racial divisions on the issue were more visible in responses to the question of whether players are entitled to protest during games, with a 53 percent majority of white voters saying they are not and a majority of African-American and Hispanic voters, 85 percent and 67 percent respectively, standing by athletes’ right to express themselves.
The findings come after President Donald Trump reignited the national debate over athletes protesting police violence during NFL games on Monday by disinviting the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from a traditional White House visit after many players announced plans to boycott the event. The action prompted a wave of backlash from prominent athletes, who rebuked the president for framing the protests as unpatriotic.
Trump tweeted Monday that NFL players who remain in the locker room during the national anthem as a sign of protest are “as disrespectful to our country as kneeling.”
NFL owners unanimously approved a new policy last month that requires players to stand on the field during the national anthem prior to games, while giving them the option of remaining in the locker room. As part of the policy, teams will be fined if players kneel during the anthem, a measure voters opposed by a 51 percent to 44 percent margin according to the Quinnipiac University findings.
While Trump accused Eagles players of deploying such protest tactics last season when he canceled the White House celebration, a review found that none of their players knelt during the anthem throughout the 2017-18 NFL season. And according to ESPN, no Eagle players opted to stay in the locker room during the anthem last season, either.
Trump’s remarks about the NFL, whose players are predominantly black, sparked further criticism of his handling of matters relating to race. Trump, according to the survey, earned poor marks for his handling of race relations, with 61 percent disapproving of his efforts and 33 percent registering approval.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted from May 31 to June 5, surveying 1,223 voters nationwide via cellphones and landlines and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.