Stand or Kneel?

September 05, 2018

A new Grinnell College National Poll shows that feelings about what professional football players do, or don’t do, during the playing of the national anthem are as intense as all the news coverage suggests.

The poll, conducted less than one week before this season’s National Football League kickoff on Thursday, shows:

  • 35 percent strongly believe all players should stand during the national anthem.
  • 36 percent strongly believe players should be able to kneel if it’s important to them.

The Grinnell College National Poll was conducted by Des Moines-based Selzer & Co. from Aug. 29 through Sept. 2. It asked 1,002 adults and has a margin of error for the general population sample of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The interviews found little middle ground. About one in ten people said they did not feel strongly about the issue, roughly dividing between those favoring standing and those favoring kneeling. Another 15 percent said they really don’t care about the issue.

“Any issue on which over 70 percent of the public feels strongly—especially when you make it easy to say, ‘I don’t care’—is a hot-button issue,” said Barbara A. Trish, professor of political science at Grinnell College.

The issue has political and generational undertones, the poll shows.

  • 69 percent of Republicans strongly believe players should stand, while 59 percent of Democrats strongly believe they should be allowed to kneel
  • Support for standing increases sharply with age, from 18 percent for adults under age 35 to 48 percent for those age 55 and older
  • Conversely, strong support for kneeling decreases among older respondents, falling from 47 percent from the under-35 crowd to 27 percent for the 55-and-over set

“If you want to start an argument,” said poll director J. Ann Selzer, “forget religion and politics. Just ask a group what they think about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.” 

She added that, by and large, Americans are also not convinced NFL team owners are doing enough to address problems of head injuries and concussion – 51 percent say they are not, compared with 29 percent who say they are doing enough.

For more information on the poll, please visit www.grinnell.edu/poll.

Interview with Peter Hanson, Associate Professor of Political Science

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