A slight majority of Americans (53%) think it is generally unacceptable for a white person to use makeup to darken their skin to appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume, including 37% who say this is never acceptable. About one-in-three (34%) say this is always or sometimes acceptable, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
The survey was conducted almost entirely before news broke about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and other high-profile politicians who have been accused of wearing blackface as part of costumes when they were younger.
Acceptance of blackface also is more common among whites without a college degree. While 44% of whites with some college or less education say this is always or sometimes acceptable, 28% of whites with at least a bachelor’s degree say the same.
Majorities of black Americans with or without a college degree say this is rarely or never acceptable. Black college graduates are less likely than those with some college or less education to say the use of blackface can be acceptable (9% vs. 21%).
There also are wide partisan gaps in views of whether it’s ever acceptable for whites to use makeup to darken their skin to appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume. About half of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party (51%) say this is acceptable at least sometimes, with about a quarter (24%) saying it’s always acceptable; 37% of Republicans say this is rarely or never acceptable. By contrast, a majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (67%) say blackface is not acceptable, with about half saying it’s never acceptable; 21% of Democrats say this is always or sometimes acceptable. Black and white Democrats hold similar views on this. There are not enough black Republicans in the sample to analyze separately.
Most whites (65%) say it is always or sometimes acceptable for someone to wear traditional dress from a country or culture other than their own as part of a Halloween costume; 41% of blacks and 46% of Hispanics say the same. And while 72% of Republicans say this is acceptable at least sometimes, a smaller share of Democrats (49%) say the same. White Democrats are more accepting of this than black Democrats: 54% of white Democrats say this is always or sometimes acceptable, compared with 39% of black Democrats.
The survey, conducted Jan. 22 to Feb. 5, 2019, includes an oversample of black and Hispanic respondents to provide more reliable estimates of those segments of the population. The overall data are weighted to provide a balanced representation of the U.S. population as a whole.