One in 5 American adults say they have seen someone wear blackface in person, a share that holds remarkably stable across generations, geographic divides, and partisan and racial identities, according to an online poll of 2,026 adults conducted for The Upshot by Morning Consult.
These answers, which were anonymous, suggest how prevalent the racist practice has been in American culture, far beyond the Virginia politicians whose careers have been upended this month by revelations involving blackface. Today it remains common not only in the memories of baby boomers but in the experiences of millennials as well, around the country.
Five percent of respondents acknowledged that they had worn blackface themselves, though behaviors that are rare are particularly difficult to measure since a small number of people who do not respond accurately or honestly can have a disproportionate effect on the results.
When asked their views of politicians who have worn blackface, many Americans are more likely to forgive the offense if it occurred decades ago. Sixty percent of respondents said they would have a worse opinion of a politician if that person wore blackface within the past five years. That is twice the share of people who say they would think worse of a politician who did so 40 years ago.
For African-Americans in the poll, however, the political cost of wearing blackface fades little with time. African-Americans remain far more likely than whites to hold negative views of politicians who have worn blackface, regardless of how long ago it was done. Liberals, too, are significantly more likely than conservatives to think worse of a politician who has worn blackface, regardless of when.
The survey asked respondents about what kind of behavior by a politician would be considered offensive enough to warrant that person’s leaving office. Survey respondents viewed wearing blackface as worse than cheating on a spouse but not as bad as misuse of taxpayer money, sexual assault and a few other transgressions.
Even as blackface has largely disappeared from mainstream culture and public displays like campus minstrel shows, these poll results suggest that it has continued in more private settings. That finding reinforces a pattern from survey questions gauging racism across many other realms of American life: It remains stubbornly common.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.