WASHINGTON — After a year of high-profile police shootings of black Americans, many captured on video, racial attitudes among Americans – particularly whites – have undergone a significant shift.

A majority of whites now say the country needs to do more to make equal rights a reality, and a significantly larger number of white Americans say blacks are treated less fairly than others by law enforcement officials, according to several newly released polls.

The share who say racism is a “big problem” in the U.S. has grown significantly as well.

Asked whether the country “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites” or whether it already has “made the changes needed,” Americans by just short of 2-1 now say more change is needed, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

A majority of whites, 53 percent, agrees that more change is needed, according to the Pew survey and a separate poll by The Washington Post and ABC News, which asked the same question.


The polls, both released Wednesday, come as the country approaches the Aug. 9 anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, the black teenager whose shooting by an officer in Ferguson, Mo., focused new attention on police use of force against blacks and other racial minorities.

The shifts are significant. For the last several years, fewer than 4 in 10 whites have said that the country needs more change to achieve equality. Instead, a majority of whites consistently has said that the country already had “made the changes needed.”

Some of the activists involved in protests the last year over police shootings took the shift in public opinion as at least a partial vindication.

“Man, that’s good, that’s huge,” said Tony Rice, one of the most prominent of Ferguson’s activists.

Rice, who has spent considerable time over the past year on a campaign to persuade white and black voters to recall Ferguson’s mayor, said white residents have often told him that the news during the last year has caused them to rethink racial issues.

“They said, ‘We had no idea what you guys were being treated like,'” he said. “My thing was, ‘Hey, we tried to tell you, you just didn’t listen,'” Rice said.

“Now they’re starting to listen. That’s what it comes down to,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

DeRay Mckesson, a prominent activist in the Black Lives Matter movement, called the shift in attitudes “an acknowledgement of the impact of racism” that black Americans have long experienced. That’s a testament to the impact the protests in Ferguson and elsewhere have had, he said.


But a change in attitude is only partial progress, he added. “It will be important,” he added, “that knowledge translates into action, that people use their privilege to dismantle racist structures and systems,” he said.

Even among African-Americans, the already large number who say the country needs to make more changes has grown in the last year, the polls found, reaching 86 percent in the Pew survey. Latinos also say by large margins that more changes are needed.

Among whites, a big part of the shift in attitudes has come from Republicans.

The Republican Party remains more conservative on racial issues than either Democrats or Americans who do not identify with either party. A majority of Republicans, for example, say that the country already has made the necessary changes to achieve equality.

But among Republicans, the share who say the country needs to change further has grown 15 points over the last year, Pew found.

Another measure – the share of Americans who say that racism in the U.S. is a “big problem” – has also shown a significant increase. Today, half of the country says racism is a “big problem,” Pew found, up from one-third who said so five years ago.