President Trump has spent the last month waging a loud, continuous, messy fight with the NFL over player protests during the national anthem. And while Trump has whipped up plenty of rage and support from his base over the protests, a new poll indicates that a majority of Americans believe he went too far in calling for the firing of players who protest.
More than two of every three Americans, 68 percent, believe the President was in error when he criticized NFL players and demanded their firing in a September Alabama rally, according to a new poll conducted by Marist on behalf of HBO. Only 28 percent said his response was appropriate. Poll respondents were more generous to Vice President Pence, with responses split at 47 percent apiece on whether Pence was correct to walk out of a Colts game following a protest during the anthem.
Critics of the NFL protests have said they are disrespectful of the flag, and 49 percent of respondents agree with that argument. However, 46 percent said the protests illustrate the very freedoms the flag symbolizes.
That symbolic weight is at the heart of the protest debate. What exactly do the flag and the anthem symbolize? More than half of the poll respondents, 57 percent, said the anthem represents America’s rights and freedoms, while 34 percent said the anthem represents the sacrifices of the military.
The poll also indicated a small but significant shift in public opinion on the mandatory nature of the anthem. A slim majority, 51 percent, of Americans believes pro sports leagues should not require athletes to stand, while 47 percent believe athletes should stand. This is a reversal of the same question from September 2016, when 52 percent indicated that players should stand, while 43 percent said they should not be required to stand.
Also worth noting: despite the talk of apocalyptic boycotts and ratings doom, the poll found NFL viewership remains both steady and nationwide. The poll indicated that 69 percent of adults watch or follow the sport at least a little; interestingly, that’s up from 56 percent in 2009, when Michael Vick was returning to the NFL after a prison stint for dogfighting.
The HBO/Marist poll surveyed 1,093 Americans, a standard, statistically valid survey size, from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. For more details, the full survey is available online.
Granted, this is one poll, and other polling organizations which use different questions will return different results. But it’s a data point that helps illustrate that public opinion of the protests during the national anthem aren’t nearly as universal as either its supporters or its critics claim.
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