Black Lives Matter support plummets from 2020 peak: Report

Most Americans say an increased focus on race in the last three years has not equated to significant gains for Black Americans.

A woman holds a Black Lives Matter flag during an event in remembrance of George Floyd outside the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul, Minn., in 2021.
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Support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which began as an online campaign a decade ago to combat violence and systemic racism toward African Americans and eventually resonated worldwide, has dropped significantly from its peak in the summer of 2020, according to a new report.

Today, about half of U.S. adults, or 51%, said they support the BLM movement, according to a Pew Research Center survey published Wednesday. Three years ago, following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults, or 67%, supported the movement.

In the aftermath of the killings — which saw upwards of 26 million people around the U.S. participate in racial justice protests during what became known as the "summer of racial reckoning" — millions of Americans were galvanized. U.S. companies pledged billions to combat racial justice and invest in Black-owned businesses, universities promised new facilities to highlight their commitment to ending systemic racism and law enforcement departments committed to reform.

Critics now question how much real progress has been made.

The report’s findings

Juliana Horowitz, one of the report’s authors, believes drastic changes in the country’s climate around issues of race and racial equality over this time have played a major role in shifting views.

“People were more likely in 2020 to say the increased focus on issues of race and racial equality would lead to changes that would improve the lives of Black people than they are today,” Horowitz, associate director of research at the center, told Yahoo News in an email.

British driver Lewis Hamilton, center, kneels with other drivers before a race during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix near Barcelona in 2020.
British driver Lewis Hamilton, center, kneels with other drivers before a race during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix near Barcelona in 2020. (Bryn Lennon/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country and confined most Americans indoors and online, Horowitz said, research shows that the public was following news about the protests just as closely as updates on the pandemic, and this sparked optimism that progress for Black Americans was possible in the U.S.

However, three years later, just 1 in 3 people, or around 32%, said BLM has been highly effective at bringing attention to racism against Black people, according to the report.

The analysis is based on a survey of 5,073 U.S. adults conducted from April 10 to 16 through an online survey panel, which reveals deep divides in support for BLM along both demographic and partisan lines.

About 8 in 10 Black adults, or 81%, said they support the movement, compared with smaller shares of other groups: 61% of Hispanic, 63% of Asian and 42% of white adults say the same.

Adults under 30 are also more likely to support the movement more than any other age group. About 64% of this age group supports it, with support greatly declining in older Americans: 52% for those 30-49, 46% for those 50-64 and 41% for those 65 and older.

Across party lines, more than 8 in 10 Democrats, or 84%, support the movement, while 82% of Republicans oppose it.

Impact of the BLM movement over time

In addition to decreasing sentiment for BLM, the survey found that a majority of Americans said an increased focus on race in the last three years has not equated to significant gains for Black Americans. Only 4 in 10 adults, or 41%, say BLM has been effective in improving the lives of Black people.

A Juneteenth rally outside the Brooklyn Museum in 2020.
A Juneteenth rally outside the Brooklyn Museum in 2020. (John Minchillo/AP)

Evan Auguste, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston and an expert in Black liberation psychology, believes that support for the movement has too often been conflated with legitimate action that far fewer people participated in, which ultimately failed to produce the kind of change many people desired.

“The data demonstrates a population processing a collective trauma while aspiring to transform those failing systems,” Auguste told Yahoo News. “However, as noted by [activist] Mariame Kaba, while a large number of Americans reported supporting BLM and broader reforms, significantly fewer actually joined political and/or community organizations to contribute to sustained political action. As such, as people’s initial trauma reactions waned, so did their engagement with the movements they never made formal commitments to.”

Outside of individuals, companies have also shown less enthusiasm in support of a movement they once championed by feverishly supporting diversity initiatives. According to data from management consulting giant McKinsey & Co., U.S. companies pledged about $340 billion to "fight racial injustice" from May 2020 to October 2022, but many of the commitments have been “difficult to track.”

Other estimates found that 271 U.S. corporations pledged $67 billion toward racial equity, but only $652 million of those funds had actually been disbursed by June 2021, according to Creative Investment Research, an economic research firm that has tracked diversity investing for decades.

A business boarded up in anticipation of continued unrest in Philadelphia in 2020.
A business boarded up in anticipation of continued unrest in Philadelphia in 2020. (Gabriella Audi/AFP via Getty Images)

Patricia Banks, author of “Black Culture, Inc.: How Ethnic Community Support Pays for Corporate America” and a professor of sociology and anthropology at Mount Holyoke College, sees a direct correlation between the declining support for BLM and the sharp reduction in race-related philanthropic commitments from companies in the last three years.

“Given that these philanthropic commitments were, in part, driven by social activism and a heightened need in that moment to signal support for racial equity, the decline in support is likely at least partly a result of lower levels of racial justice activism,” Banks told Yahoo News. “Thus, the 2020 activism contributed to meaningful gains for African Americans. However, as the sociopolitical environment has shifted, in some cases those gains have not been long term.”

While the gains for the movement over the last three years may be hard to quantify, Auguste cautions against saying that no progress was achieved.

“The perceptions of BLM’s political success will likely be shaped by a community’s local changes in policing,” he said, noting that hundreds of local police reforms have passed since 2020, with varying levels of impact on actual police violence.

“However, perhaps the largest success of BLM has been animating creativity and resistance among a generation of Black people with specific regards to community safety beyond policing,” he added. “BLM has surely played an indelible role in expanding how Black political movements organize and helped shape the consciousness of a generation.”