Watch CBS News

Poll: Few think all of Martin Luther King's goals have been met

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

There is widespread consensus about the impact of Martin Luther King Jr. on the lives of black Americans -- more than four in five Americans think he improved their lives, according to a new CBS News poll released Wednesday. Eighty-five percent of Americans think he made things better for blacks, including 86 percent of whites and 89 percent of blacks. Just seven percent of Americans think he made no difference, and one percent thinks he made things worse for blacks in this country.

But 50 years after the March on Washington, few Americans - just four percent - think all of the goals of Martin Luther King and the 1960s civil rights movement have been achieved. While 31 percent think most of these goals have been achieved, a 55 percent majority (including 62 percent of blacks) think that only some have been achieved.


Racial Discrimination

When it comes to specific questions about racial discrimination, the poll finds a wide divergence between the views of white and black Americans. While sizeable majorities of both whites and blacks think there is at least some racial discrimination today, blacks are more apt to say it is widespread. Forty percent of blacks say there is a lot of discrimination against African-Americans today, compared to just 15 percent of whites who say that.

Differing views may be a result of different personal experiences. Just 29 percent of whites say they can think of a specific instance where they felt discriminated against because of their race, but this rises to 62 percent among blacks.

At the same time, Americans do recognize some progress. Nearly three in four (73 percent) say there has been a lot of real progress in getting rid of racial discrimination since the 1960s. This percentage has risen since the 1990s, when CBS News first began asking the question.

Majorities of both blacks and whites think there has been a lot of progress, but more whites (78 percent) than blacks (55 percent) think that.

A slim majority of Americans (52 percent) think there's now real hope in ending discrimination in the long run - the first time a majority has said this since CBS News first asked the question in 1992. Still, 42 percent think there will always be a lot of racial prejudice and discrimination.

However, African-Americans are less optimistic than whites about ending racial discrimination. Fifty-four percent of blacks think there will always be a lot racial prejudice and discrimination in America, while 39 percent say there is real hope of ending it in the long run. Opinions of whites are reversed with 41 percent saying racial discrimination will always exist, while 54 percent say there's a real hope of ending it.

Blacks and Whites: Getting Ahead and the Justice System

Even though most Americans (56 percent) think whites and blacks have an equal chance of getting ahead in today's society, they are more than five times as likely to say whites have a better chance of getting ahead than blacks. There are stark racial differences here. Fifty percent of black Americans say whites have a better chance of getting ahead, compared to just 29 percent of whites who say that.



Black and white Americans also differ markedly in assessing the fairness of the U.S. criminal justice system towards blacks. Thirty percent of whites say the justice system is biased against blacks, but more - 48 percent - think it treats blacks fairly. In contrast, 61 percent of black Americans think the justice system is biased against blacks.

Black Role Models

America's first black president is the top choice as the most important black role model for young people today. Thirty-three percent of Americans - and 50 percent of black Americans - volunteer Barack Obama as the most important black role model, while Martin Luther King Jr. is a distant second overall at eight percent, followed by Oprah Winfrey (five percent), Bill Cosby (three percent), and Michelle Obama (two percent).


When this question was last asked in February 2000, nearly a decade before Mr. Obama assumed the presidency, Martin Luther King Jr. was the top choice at 20 percent.


This poll was conducted by telephone from August 7-11, 2013 among 1,006 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.