2020 Democrats have started to clash over slavery reparations, but a new poll shows most liberals support the idea

  • The issue of reparations to descendants of slaves is a growing debate in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro, who are both running in 2020, have publicly feuded over reparations in recent days. Other candidates have offered vague stances as they continue to be questioned on the matter.
  • A new INSIDER poll helps reveal why there’s an appetite for this discussion among likely Democratic voters, and also suggests candidates could benefit from embracing reparations.
  • The poll found a majority of liberals (54%) support reparations.

As the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president heats up and the field of candidates continues to grow, the issue of reparations for descendants of slaves has emerged as a key topic along the campaign trail.

Democratic candidates have already begun to spar over what reparations really means from a policy standpoint, as they continue to face questions on the issue in interviews and other settings.

A new INSIDER poll conducted on SurveyMonkey Audience over the weekend helps reveal why a lane has opened for this discussion in the context of the 2020 Democratic race, and why candidates supporting reparations could boost their favour with liberal voters.


Read more:
Bernie Sanders when asked about reparations says there are ‘better ways’ to help people than ‘writing out a check’

Here’s how Americans feel about reparations for descendants of slaves

INSIDER questioned poll participants on this issue in two ways to see if including the term “reparations” changed how people responded.

About half of respondents were asked about the topic with an explicit reference to reparations: “Do you agree or disagree that families who have ancestors who were enslaved in the US are entitled to reparations to offset the long-term financial impacts of the theft of that labour?”

Another half was asked the question in another way – without an explicit reference to reparations, but based on the same general premise: “Do you agree or disagree that families who have ancestors who were enslaved in the US are entitled to financial compensation and government assistance to offset the long-term financial impacts of the theft of that labour?”

Overall, the INSIDER poll found that most Americans are generally opposed to financially compensating descendants of slaves, regardless of how the question was framed. But the poll findings were far more divided when broken down by race/ethnicity and political ideology.

  • Approximately 25% of Americans would favour giving “financial compensation and government assistance” to the descendants of slaves, the poll found, while a slightly higher percentage (about 32%) expressed support for the notion descendants of slaves are “entitled to reparations.”
  • Setting aside the framing, the poll showed that 64% of respondents who said they were black Americans supported reparations, compared to just 25% of white respondents and 37% of Asian American respondents. Meanwhile, roughly 42% of Hispanic or Latino voters would support reparations, according to the poll.
  • When it comes to liberals and conservatives, the poll points to a stark divide on this issue: 54% of respondents who identified as moderately or very liberal supported reparations, compared to just 13% of moderately or very conservative respondents.

The fact a majority of self-identified liberals, who tend to vote Democratic, are in favour of reparations may help explain why this has suddenly become a significant issue for 2020 Democratic candidates.

Not to mention, black and Latino Americans, who expressed significantly more support for reparations than other demographics in INSIDER’s poll, have overwhelmingly voted for Democrats in recent elections.

In this sense, the poll’s findings suggest it could be politically savvy for Democratic candidates to support reparations or at least be open to the discussion if they hope to win over voters who tend to support their party.

How 2020 Democratic candidates are approaching reparations

While the a precise policy to pay reparations has not emerged, Democrats vying for the party’s presidential nomination have started to clash over the issue and the gaps between the candidates were highlighted by a recent back-and-forth between Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

In a recent appearance on “The View,” Sanders was reluctant to specifically embrace reparations as policy.

What we have got to do is pay attention to distressed communities – black communities, Latino communities, and white communities all over this country – and as president I pledge to do that,” Sanders said when asked about the idea.

But Sanders was pressed to be more clear on whether he’d explicitly endorse the notion of reparations. He questioned what the term really means, to which host Sunny Hostin said, “Money.”

The Vermont senator replied, “I think that right now our job is to address the crises facing the American people in our communities. And I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.”

Castro has since gone after Sanders over his suggestion that reparations should not occur in the form of a check and slammed the senator’s policy positions.

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Castro said, “I’ve long believed that this country should address slavery, the original sin of slavery, including by looking at reparations. If I’m president, then I’m going to appoint a commission or task force to determine the best way to do that.”

Castro noted there’s a “tremendous amount of disagreement” on what the implementation of reparations would look like, but seemingly felt Sanders was too dismissive of the notion in general.


Read more:
‘Shouldn’t we compensate people if they were property?’: 2020 Democrats are divided over whether to give reparations to black Americans

“What [Sanders] said on ‘The View’ the other day, I think, he didn’t think the best way to address this was for the United States to write a check,” Castro said. “To my mind that may or may not be the best way to address it.”

“However, it’s interesting to me that when it comes to ‘Medicare for all,’ health care, you know the response there has we need to write a big check, that when it comes to tuition-free or debt-free college, the answer has been we need to write a big check,” Castro added.


Read more:
Bernie Sanders’ campaign rebukes Julian Castro’s criticism about slavery reparations, says anyone who claims to have a ‘magic bullet’ is ‘lying’

Meanwhile, candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have exhibited support for reparations in some form or another.

“I think it’s time for us to have the conversation. We need to address the fact that in this country, we built great fortunes and wealth on the backs of slaves and we need to address that head-on – we need to have that national conversation,” Warren recently told CNN.

“There are scholars, there are activists who’ve talked about a lot of different ways we might structure reparations,” Warren added.

Harris has gone back and forth on her position, initially expressing outright support for reparations in an interview with The New York Times. Subsequently, Harris backed off somewhat and said the policies she’s pushing for would not only help black Americans but would be aimed at “directly” benefiting “black children, black families, and black homeowners because the disparities are so significant.”

Sen. Cory Booker has made the case his “baby bonds” plan, which would grant every native-born child in the US a set amount of money per year, is a “form of reparations.”

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,082 respondents collected March 10, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.12 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.