Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Most Black Americans Believe U.S. Institutions Were Designed To Hold Black People Back


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An earlier version of the report used the phrase “racial conspiracy theories” to describe a complex and sensitive set of findings. We previously defined racial conspiracy theories as the suspicions that Black adults might have about the actions of U.S. institutions based on their personal and collective historical experiences with racial discrimination. For editorial reasons, we have chosen not to use this phrasing in the updated report. The data remains unchanged.


The American Trends Panel (ATP), created by Pew Research Center, is a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults. Panelists participate via self-administered web surveys. Panelists who do not have internet access at home are provided with a tablet and wireless internet connection. Interviews are conducted in both English and Spanish. The panel is being managed by Ipsos.

Data in this report is drawn from ATP Wave 134, conducted from Sept. 12 to Sept. 24, 2023. A total of 7,470 panelists responded out of 10,219 who were sampled, for a response rate of 74% (AAPOR RR3). This includes 4,489 respondents from the ATP and an oversample of 2,981 Black Americans from Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel. The cumulative response rate accounting for nonresponse to the recruitment surveys and attrition is 2%. The break-off rate among panelists who logged on to the survey and completed at least one item is 3%. The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 7,470 respondents is plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.

Panel recruitment

A table showing American Trends Panel recruitment surveys

The ATP was created in 2014, with the first cohort of panelists invited to join the panel at the end of a large, national, landline and cellphone random-digit-dial survey that was conducted in both English and Spanish. Two additional recruitments were conducted using the same method in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Across these three surveys, a total of 19,718 adults were invited to join the ATP, of whom 9,942 (50%) agreed to participate.

In August 2018, the ATP switched from telephone to address-based sampling (ABS) recruitment. A study cover letter and a pre-incentive are mailed to a stratified, random sample of households selected from the U.S. Postal Service’s Delivery Sequence File. This Postal Service file has been estimated to cover as much as 98% of the population, although some studies suggest that the coverage could be in the low 90% range.3 Within each sampled household, the adult with the next birthday is asked to participate. Other details of the ABS recruitment protocol have changed over time but are available upon request.4

We have recruited a national sample of U.S. adults to the ATP approximately once per year since 2014. In some years, the recruitment has included additional effort (known as an “oversample”) to boost sample size with underrepresented groups. For example, Hispanic adults, Black adults and Asian adults were oversampled in 2019, 2022 and 2023, respectively.

Across the six address-based recruitments, a total of 23,862 adults were invited to join the ATP, of whom 20,917 agreed to join the panel and completed an initial profile survey. Of the 30,859 individuals who have ever joined the ATP, 11,944 remained active panelists and continued to receive survey invitations at the time this survey was conducted.

The American Trends Panel never uses breakout routers or chains that direct respondents to additional surveys.

Sample design

The overall target population for this survey was noninstitutionalized persons ages 18 and older living in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. It featured a stratified random sample from the ATP in which Black adults were selected with certainty. The remaining panelists were sampled at rates designed to ensure that the share of respondents in each stratum is proportional to its share of the U.S. adult population to the greatest extent possible. Respondent weights are adjusted to account for differential probabilities of selection as described in the Weighting section below.

The ATP was supplemented with an oversample from the KnowledgePanel in which all panelists who had previously identified as Black or African American (including those who identify as Hispanic or Black in combination with another race) were selected with certainty.

Questionnaire development and testing

The questionnaire was developed by Pew Research Center in consultation with Ipsos. The web program was rigorously tested on both PC and mobile devices by the Ipsos project management team and Pew Research Center researchers. The Ipsos project management team also populated test data that was analyzed in SPSS to ensure the logic and randomizations were working as intended before launching the survey.


All respondents were offered a post-paid incentive for their participation. Respondents could choose to receive the post-paid incentive in the form of a check or a gift code to or could choose to decline the incentive. Incentive amounts ranged from $5 to $20 depending on whether the respondent belongs to a part of the population that is harder or easier to reach. Differential incentive amounts were designed to increase panel survey participation among groups that traditionally have low survey response propensities.

Data collection protocol

The data collection field period for this survey was Sept. 12 to Sept. 24, 2023. Postcard notifications were mailed to all ATP panelists with a known residential address on Sept. 11. 

A table showing Invitation and reminder dates for ATP Wave 134

Invitations were sent out in two separate launches: soft launch and full launch. Eighty ATP panelists and 484 KnowledgePanel panelists were included in the soft launch, which began with an initial invitation sent on Sept. 12, 2023. The ATP panelists chosen for the initial soft launch were known responders who had completed previous ATP surveys within one day of receiving their invitation. All remaining English- and Spanish-speaking sampled panelists were included in the full launch and were sent an invitation on Sept. 13.

All panelists with an email address received an email invitation and up to four email reminders if they did not respond to the survey. All ATP panelists who consented to SMS messages received an SMS invitation and up to four SMS reminders.

Data quality checks

To ensure high-quality data, the Center’s researchers performed data quality checks to identify any respondents showing clear patterns of satisficing. This includes checking for very high rates of leaving questions blank, as well as always selecting the first or last answer presented. As a result of this checking, six ATP and 11 KnowledgePanel respondents were removed from the survey dataset prior to weighting and analysis.


A table showing American Trends Panel weighting dimensions

The data is weighted in a multistep process that accounts for multiple stages of sampling and nonresponse that occur at different points in the survey process. First, each panelist begins with a base weight that reflects their probability of selection for their initial recruitment survey. That weight is then adjusted to account for nonresponse to the recruitment surveys and panel attrition. Next, respondents are divided into three groups, which are ATP Black respondents, ATP non-Black respondents, and KnowledgePanel Black respondents. The base weights for each group are separately scaled to be proportional to their effective sample size before being recombined and calibrated so that the proportion of Black (alone or in combination) respondents matches the American Community Survey benchmark.

This weight is further calibrated again to align with the population benchmarks identified in the accompanying table and trimmed at the 1st and 99th percentiles separately for Black and non-Black respondents to reduce the loss in precision stemming from variance in the weights. Sampling errors and tests of statistical significance take into account the effect of weighting.

The following table shows the unweighted sample sizes and the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey.

A table showing Sample sizes and margins of error for ATP Wave 134

Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available upon request. In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

Dispositions and response rates

A table showing Final dispositions for ATP Wave 134
A table showing Cumulative response rate as of ATP Wave 134

How family income tiers are calculated

Family income data reported in this study is adjusted for household size and cost-of-living differences by geography. Panelists then are assigned to income tiers that are based on the median adjusted family income of all American Trends Panel members. The process uses the following steps:

  1. First, panelists are assigned to the midpoint of the income range they selected in a family income question that was measured on either the most recent annual profile survey or, for newly recruited panelists, their recruitment survey. This provides an approximate income value that can be used in calculations for the adjustment.
  2. Next, these income values are adjusted for the cost of living in the geographic area where the panelist lives. This is calculated using price indexes published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. These indexes, known as Regional Price Parities (RPP), compare the prices of goods and services across all U.S. metropolitan statistical areas as well as non-metro areas with the national average prices for the same goods and services. The most recent available data at the time of the annual profile survey is from 2021. Those who fall outside of metropolitan statistical areas are assigned the overall RPP for their state’s non-metropolitan area.
  3. Family incomes are further adjusted for the number of people in a household using the methodology from Pew Research Center’s previous work on the American middle class. This is done because a four-person household with an income of say, $50,000, faces a tighter budget constraint than a two-person household with the same income.
  4. Panelists are then assigned an income tier. “Middle-income” adults are in families with adjusted family incomes that are between two-thirds and double the median adjusted family income for the full ATP at the time of the most recent annual profile survey. The median adjusted family income for the panel is roughly $71,700. Using this median income, the middle-income range is about $47,800 to $143,400. Lower-income families have adjusted incomes less than $47,800 and upper-income families have adjusted incomes greater than $143,400 (all figures expressed in 2022 dollars and scaled to a household size of three). If a panelist did not provide their income and/or their household size, they are assigned “no answer” in the income tier variable.

Two examples of how a given area’s cost-of-living adjustment was calculated are as follows: The Anniston-Oxford metropolitan area in Alabama is a relatively inexpensive area, with a price level that is 16.2% less than the national average. The San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metropolitan area in California is one of the most expensive areas, with a price level that is 19.8% higher than the national average. Income in the sample is adjusted to make up for this difference. As a result, a family with an income of $41,900 in the Anniston-Oxford area is as well off financially as a family of the same size with an income of $59,900 in San Francisco. 

The respondents from the KnowledgePanel oversample answered the same family income and household size questions, and their incomes were adjusted using the procedures detailed above. They were then assigned an income tier based on the median adjusted family income for the full ATP at the time of the most recent annual profile survey.

Focus group methodology

Pew Research Center worked with PSB Insights to conduct seven focus groups with a total of 34 Black adults. The focus groups were conducted online from May 23 to June 1, 2023. 

The focus groups included at least one group for each of the following categories of Black adults: young adults ages 18 to 29; adults with household incomes less than $30,ooo (low income); adults with household incomes greater than or equal to $100,000 (high income); adults born outside of the U.S.; Black men; and adults who align with or lean toward the Republican Party.

Each group included four or five participants, lasted for 90 minutes, and was led by an experienced moderator using a discussion guide developed by Pew Research Center. The focus groups were conducted over a secure, online research platform with video and audio capabilities.

Recruitment efforts included targeted email outreach among a panel of qualified candidates and social media outreach, followed by a screening phone call with those who expressed interest over email or social media to ensure they were eligible for the study.

Participants had to meet four criteria to be eligible. First, potential participants had to be living in the United States and be at least 18 years old. Second, they were screened to confirm that their race was Black or African American. Third, they had to have access to the internet and a device with a working webcam. And finally, participants had to be willing to attend the online focus group on a particular date and time.

In order to ensure a diverse mix of participants among all who qualified, the research team also collected demographic information such as region, age, gender, household income, and political affiliation. The demographic breakdown of the participants was as follows:

A table showing Demographic characteristics of focus group participants

The findings are not statistically representative and cannot be extrapolated to wider populations.

© Pew Research Center, 2024

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  1. AAPOR Task Force on Address-based Sampling. 2016. “AAPOR Report: Address-based Sampling.”
  2. Email
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