Americans remain divided in views on race relations

Last Updated Dec 10, 2014 8:09 AM EST

Americans are divided in their assessments of race relations in the U.S, a new CBS News poll shows.

Some 45 percent think they are generally good, but 43 percent think they are generally bad.

Views are similar to August - when protests in Ferguson first began after Michael Brown's death - but the percentage saying race relations are good has dropped 10 points since spring and is now the lowest in CBS News Polls since 1997.

Blacks are more critical than whites. 54 percent of blacks think race relations are bad, while whites are more divided: 47percent called race relations good, 42 percent bad.

Only one in five Americans thinks race relations are improving in the U.S. Most either think they are getting worse (36 percent) or staying about the same (40 percent).

A week after a grand jury decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, few think the use of police force in this case was justified.

Just 14 percent of whites and even fewer blacks (3 percent) think that use of force by police was justified. Two-thirds of blacks (68 percent) think it was not justified, while many whites (46 percent) don't know enough to say.

Many Americans think race played a role in Garner's death, but blacks are far more likely to think it played a major role. Whites are more inclined to say race was not a factor at all.

In order to help ease tensions and disputes between police and civilians, some have proposed better training of police and police use of body cams. The poll finds broad support for both of these approaches, including majorities of both blacks and whites.

Six in 10 Americans think police officers need better training to help handle confrontations with civilians, while a third think most police have this training already. Blacks (85 percent) are more likely than whites (59 percent) to support better police training.

There is near unanimous support (91 percent) for on-duty police officers wearing video cameras.

This poll was conducted by telephone December 6-9, 2014 among 1,122 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News and the New York Times by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

Additional interviews were conducted with African Americans, who had previously completed a survey as part of a random sample, to yield a sample size of 287 African Americans. 698 whites were interviewed.

The combined African American and non-African American samples were weighted separately to match their group's population characteristics such as gender, age, education, region, marital status and phone use based on recent U.S. Census estimates. The samples were then combined and weighted to the total U.S. adult population.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. The margin of error for the sample of whites is 5 pts and 8 pts for African Americans. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

CBS News Poll on Police, Profiling and Race Relations by CBS_News