Washington Redskins name opinion polls
Parts of this article (those related to the 2020 UC Berkeley study ) need to be updated. (March 2020)
Controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins has led to the use of public opinion polling to establish whether the term "redskin" is insulting to Native Americans, and whether it should be changed. Poll results indicate that a majority of the general population and a large majority of Native Americans are not offended by the name. These results and conclusions have been criticized by scholars and Native American leaders as being erroneous, and are contradicted by a 2020 study at UC Berkeley which found that 49% of self-identified Native Americans responded that the Washington Redskins name was offensive or very offensive, while only 38% were not bothered by it. In addition, for study participants who were heavily engaged in their native or tribal cultures, 67% said they were offended, for young people 60%, and those with tribal affiliations 52%.
Louis Gray, president of the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism and a member of the Osage Nation, said in 2013, "You wouldn't [take a poll] with any other race. You wouldn't have African-Americans vote to decide whether or not any sort of racial epithet would be offensive."
Polls of the general public
Opinions regarding name change
While varying somewhat, national opinion polls consistently indicate that a majority of the general public do not advocate a name change.
- In an April 2013 poll by AP-GfK, 79 percent responded that the name should not change, 11 percent said it should change, 8 percent had no opinion and 2 percent did not answer.
- A June 2014 poll by Rasmussen Reports found 60 percent agreed that the name should not change, 26 percent that it should change, and 14 percent were undecided. In 2018 journalists for the Associated Press questioned Rasmussen's methodology.
- A poll conducted by Langer Research for ESPN's "Outside the Lines" in September 2014 found 71 percent in favor of keeping the name, and 23 percent thinking the name should be changed. While finding no difference based upon race or gender, this poll found a significant political difference, with 88 percent of people who consider themselves conservative say the team should keep its name, compared to 53 percent for liberals.
- The 2016 annual NFL poll found significant difference of opinion based upon age and race. Older respondents are opposed to a name change, but those between 18 and 29 are strongly (70%) in favor of a change. While 77% of all white fans believe the name should not be changed, only 38% of African-American and 33% of Latino fans agree, which is a change since the 2014 poll in which there was little difference between white and non-white opinion.
Opinions regarding offensiveness of the name
The September 2014 national poll found that 68 percent think the name is not disrespectful of Native Americans, 19 percent say it shows "some" disrespect, and 9 percent say it is "a lot" disrespectful. This is in contrast to polls of DC, Maryland, and Virginia fans; a small majority of whom said that the word "redskin" is offensive to Native Americans in at least some contexts by 59 percent, 56 percent, and 53 percent.
Polls targeting Native Americans
Polls seeking to provide evidence of the opinion of Native Americans suffer from many limitations. First is the small size of the population, less than one percent of the total population of the United States. It takes months of sampling in order to gather a statistically significant sample. The most significant difficulty has been the problem of using self-identification as the only means of identifying Native Americans.
While not specific to the Redskins, a survey conducted in 2002 by The Harris Poll for Sports Illustrated (SI) found that 81 percent of Native Americans who live outside traditional Indian reservations and 53 percent of Indians on reservations did not find the names or images used by sports team to be discriminatory. The authors of the article concluded that "Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree". According to the article, "There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue." Soon after the SI article, a group of five social scientists experienced in researching the mascot issue published a journal article arguing against the validity of this survey and its conclusions. They state, "The confidence with which the magazine asserts that a 'disconnect' between Native American activists and Native Americans exists on this issue belies the serious errors in logic and accuracy made in the simplistic labeling of Native Americans who oppose mascots as 'activists.'"
An alternative method to standard opinion polls was used by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino. A survey was conducted of 400 individuals, with 98 individuals positively identified as Native Americans, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is racial or racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not racist.
Annenberg 2004 poll
The survey most frequently cited by opponents of change as definitive of Native American opinion was performed in 2004 as part of the National Annenberg Election Survey. Among other questions regarding election year issues, respondents who identified themselves as being Native American were asked: "The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?" In response, ninety percent replied that the name did not bother them, while nine percent said that it was offensive, and one percent would not answer. The methods used in this survey and the conclusions that can be drawn from it have been criticized by social scientists, Native American scholars and legal experts for years. In August, 2015, a memo written by senior researchers at the organization responsible for collecting the data for the survey made clear that it should not be taken as an accurate reflection of Native American attitudes at the time.
Washington Post 2016 poll
In May 2016, The Washington Post (WaPo) released a poll of self-identified Native Americans that produced the same results as the 2004 Annenberg poll, that 90% of the 504 respondents were "not bothered" by the team's name.
Differences between the 2004 and 2016 poll
- The Annenberg poll was criticized for only using land lines at a time when they were rare on reservations, so 60% of the respondents in the new poll were contacted on cell phones, based upon other surveys indicating that 95% of Native Americans have at least one cell phone per household. When a land-line was answered, there was a request that the youngest adult present respond to the questions; for cell phones the individual answering the phone completed the survey.
- The new survey included Alaska and Hawaii, which have large populations of indigenous people, while the 2004 survey only included the contiguous 48 states.
- Sample selection: The new survey was part of the routine WaPo opinion survey, in which all were asked "Do you consider yourself white, black or African American, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, mixed race or some other race?" Only those that responded that they were 100% Native American/Alaskan Native were then asked the questions about the Redskins. (However, 16% of the sample identified themselves as Hispanic.) They were also asked if they were enrolled members of a tribe, and if so which one; 44% of the respondents said they were tribal members. In addition, zip codes containing a high proportion of tribal or reservation land were targeted. Due to the low percentage of Native Americans in the general population, responses were collected over a five-month period, December 16, 2015 to April 12, 2016.
New questions included:
- Participants were asked if they had heard about the debate; 56% responded that they had heard "not too much" or "not at all". 78% said the debate was either "not too" or "not at all" important.
- 80% responded that they would not be personally offended if a Non-Native American referred to them as a "Redskin".
- A smaller sample of 340 respondents was asked if the term "redskin" is disrespectful to Native Americans, with 73% responding "No".
- 51% said they are pro football fans, while 48% were not, a split similar to national polls of all adults.
Due to variations between the characteristics of the sample and the population of Native Americans based upon Census data from 2010, the reported results were based upon statistical weighting of the raw data. The respondents were older (274 of the 504 being over 50), more highly educated (at least some college), and more likely to live in the Northeast and North Central regions, compared to Native Americans in the Census. Criticism of the wording of the question "As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?" as being confusing was addressed by asking the question again to 43 respondents to check that the same answer was given, which it was by 41 of the 43. However, the problem critics have with the question is that it is unclear what is being asked given that "do you find the name offensive" is distinct from "or doesn't it bother you", the later also being awkwardly worded. Reports of the results by the media, such as the Associated Press, say Native Americans are "not offended" rather than "not bothered".
Response to 2016 poll
Adrienne Keene, Ed.D responded that the poll uses faulty data and methods, such as the continuing problem of self-identification, and the reporting of the results misses the point regarding objections to the name established by social science research and the authentic voices of Native Americans as being about real harms, not individual feelings. NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata stated, "The survey doesn't recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives. It is not respectful to who we are as Native people. This poll still doesn't make it right."
Addressing the problems with the prior telephone polls, the 2020 Berkeley/Michigan University study asked questions regarding offensiveness of team names and fan behavior with more than two options, and details to determine the strength of respondents Native identification.
The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) issued a statement calling the publication of the poll, and the reporting of its significance, as not only inaccurate and misleading but unethical. "The reporters and editors behind this story must have known that it would be used as justification for the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots. They were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and reporting used in this story, and neither is acceptable from any journalistic institution."
While not addressing the NAJA criticism, the WaPo editorial board maintained its prior position that the name is a slur and that they will avoid its use as much as possible. However, one WaPo editor and advocate for change, Robert McCartney, has decided to drop any further protest in light of the poll results. The editorial board reiterated their advocacy of name change in 2019, citing the opposition of Native American tribes that has resulted in the retirement of Native mascots by high schools.
A Los Angeles Times editorial cites the evidence that the name is offensive to many, which the poll does not change given its questionable representation of Native American opinion.
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- "11 Reasons to Ignore the 10-Year-Old Annenberg Survey About the Washington Football Team's Offensive Name". Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic. February 11, 2014.
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- THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (May 19, 2016). "Poll: 9 in 10 Native Americans Not Offended by Redskins Name". The New York Times.
- Dr. Adrienne Keene, EdD (May 19, 2016). "WaPo's new Redsk*ns survey: Faulty data and missing the point".
- "NCAI Response to New Poll on R*skins Team Name". May 19, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
- Jane Recker (February 21, 2020). "A New Study Contradicts a Washington Post Poll About How Native Americans View the Redskins' Name". The Washingtonian.
- "NAJA and UNITY respond to recent Washington NFL team name poll". May 20, 2016.
- Mike Florio (May 22, 2016). "Washington Post follows poll with call for name change". NBC Sports.
- Robert McCartney (May 20, 2013). "I'm dropping my protest of Washington's football team name". The Washington Post.
- "Schools in 2 states just retired Native American mascots. The D.C. NFL team should take note". The Washington Post. August 17, 2019.
- Scott Martelle (May 25, 2016). "Forget the poll: 'Redskin' offends, and the NFL should drop the name". Los Angeles Times.