You wouldn't [take a poll] with any other race. You wouldn't have African Americans vote to decide whether or not any sort of racial epithet would be offensive.

Louis Gray, member of the Osage Nation and former president of the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism [1]

During the years of increasing awareness of the Washington Redskins name controversy, public opinion polls were part of the discussion about whether Native Americans found the term redskin insulting. Other polls gauged how the general public viewed the controversy.

Two national political polls, the first in 2004 and another in 2016, were particularly influential. When a respondent identified themselves as Native American, these polls asked, "The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?". In both polls, 90% responded that they were not bothered, 9% that they were offended, and 1% gave no response. These polls were widely cited by teams, fans, and mainstream media as evidence that there was no need to change the name of the Washington football team or the names and mascots of other teams.

But academics noted that standard polling methods cannot accurately measure the opinions of a small, yet culturally and socially diverse population such as Native Americans. More detailed and focused academic studies found that most Native Americans found the term offensive, particularly those with more identification and involvement with their Native cultures.

Native American organizations that represented a significant percentage of tribal citizens and that opposed Native mascots criticized these polls on technical and other grounds, including that their widespread use represented white privilege and the erasure of authentic Native voices.[2]

In 2013, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said that the misrepresentation of Native opinion by polling had impeded progress for decades.[2] More than a half century passed between the 1968 resolution by the NCAI condemning the name and the February 2, 2022, announcement that the team would be renamed the Washington Commanders.[3]

Limitations on polling

Polls to assess the opinions of Native Americans are unusually difficult to conduct in ways that yield accurate results. Among the obstacles to building a statistically useful sample are: the population is small, less than one percent of the total population of the United States; hard to reach, with many member lacking telephones; and diverse, with individuals connecting in varying levels of intensity to 574 Federally recognized tribes.

Faced with these impediments, many pollsters have chosen an approach that only increases the chance of sampling error: relying on respondents to identify themselves as Native American or not. Native American identity in the United States is an ongoing issue, with different definitions of "Indianness" based upon tribal membership, Blood quantum laws, heritage, and personal stories. In the 1990 census, 1.8 million self-identified as Native American, when membership in Federally recognized tribes was only 1.14 million. By this measure, 37% of claims of Native identity were questionable. This trend has only increased as being part Native American has become more popular. The lack of independent verification of their Native American ethnicity introduces uncertainty that these pollsters generally fail to account for or properly acknowledge, invalidating their conclusions.[4]

National opinion polls

Sports Illustrated 2002

A survey conducted in 2002 by The Harris Poll for Sports Illustrated (SI) found that 81 percent of Native Americans who live outside traditional Indian reservations and 53 percent of Indians on reservations did not find the names or images used by sports teams to be discriminatory. The authors of the article concluded that "Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree". According to the article, "There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue."[5]

Soon afterward, a group of five social scientists who had conducted research on the mascot issue published a journal article arguing against the validity of this survey and its conclusions. They wrote, "The confidence with which the magazine asserts that a 'disconnect' between Native American activists and Native Americans exists on this issue belies the serious errors in logic and accuracy made in the simplistic labeling of Native Americans who oppose mascots as 'activists.'"[6][7]

Annenberg 2004

The survey of Native American opinion most frequently cited by opponents of change was performed in 2004 as part of the National Annenberg Election Survey. Among other questions about election-year issues, respondents who identified themselves as Native American were asked: "The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?" Ninety percent replied that the name did not bother them, nine percent said it was offensive, and one percent would not answer.[8] The dissemination of this poll by mainstream media helped produce an illusion of widespread agreement among Native Americans that the name was inoffensive.[9]

In 2005, 15 Native American scholars, including Vine Deloria Jr., Daniel Heath Justice, Susan A. Miller, and Devon A. Mihesuah, collaborated to critique the use of polling to determine the opinions of Native Americans. They argued that the technical problems that prevented the collection of valid data, in particular the inclusion of many non-Natives in polling samples, were well-known. Mainstream organizations that continued to conduct such polls, and those that relied upon them as valid indicators of Native American opinion, reflected white privilege and the erasure of the many authentic Native voices that had directly contradicted poll results.[9]

In 2014 the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic at American University held a panel discussion upon the tenth anniversary of the Annenburg poll, which resulted in a list of 11 reasons to ignore it.[10]

  1. After ten years, a poll should not be used for anything other than an indication of opinion at that time.
  2. A definitive response to an issue is not likely when there is a single question among many on a long phone survey.
  3. No additional questions were asked about level of heritage or tribal membership, although the problems with self-identification were well-known. In the 1990 census, 1.8 million self-identified as Native American, when official tribal membership was only 1.14 million. Thus, 40% of claims of Native identity were questionable. This trend has only increased as being part Native American has become more popular.
  4. The use of land-lines at a time when half of those living on reservations had no phones, while omitted younger people who had already switched to cellphones.
  5. The question "The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?" is poorly worded and confusing.
  6. Other human rights issues have been surveyed repeatedly, showing a progression that a single year poll does not address.
  7. Only 768 self-identified individual were polled, which is only 0.04% of the population. This is the minimal sample for statistical significance, ignoring the known issues with validity.
  8. Respondents often tell pollsters what they want to hear.
  9. If only 9% of Native Americans are offended, is that ok?
  10. No follow-up questions about what should be done.
  11. Does a survey matter in light of the racist history of the team?

In August 2015, Glushko-Samuelson published the text of a memo written by Chintan Turakhia, Sr. and Courtney Kennedy, both vice-presidents and senior researches at Abt SRBI, the survey organization responsible for collecting the data for the 2004 survey. The memo had been prepared at the request of Ken Winneg, Annenberg's Managing Director of Survey Research. The memo made it clear that the survey should not be taken as an accurate reflection of Native American attitudes at the time, since the methods used to survey the general population are not effective for generating representative samples for all possible subgroups that may be of interest. Some subgroups, including Native Americans, have unique characteristics (e.g., multiple languages, unusual residential patterns) that require specialized survey designs if they are to be measured rigorously.[11]

Washington Post 2016

In May 2016, The Washington Post (WaPo) released a poll of self-identified Native Americans that produced the same results as the 2004 Annenberg poll, that 90% of the 504 respondents were "not bothered" by the team's name.[12][13][14]

Differences between the 2004 and 2016 poll

New questions included:


Due to variations between the characteristics of the sample and the population of Native Americans based upon Census data from 2010, the reported results were based upon statistical weighting of the raw data. The respondents were older (274 of the 504 being over 50), more highly educated (at least some college), and more likely to live in the Northeast and North Central regions, compared to Native Americans in the Census. Criticism of the wording of the question "As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?" as being confusing was addressed by asking the question again to 43 respondents to check that the same answer was given, which it was by 41 of the 43. However, the problem critics have with the question is that it is unclear what is being asked given that "do you find the name offensive" is distinct from "or doesn't it bother you", the later also being awkwardly worded.[10] Reports of the results by the media, such as the Associated Press, say Native Americans are "not offended" rather than "not bothered".[15]

Response to 2016 poll

Adrienne Keene, Ed.D responded that the poll uses faulty data and methods, such as the continuing problem of self-identification, and the reporting of the results misses the point regarding objections to the name established by social science research and the authentic voices of Native Americans as being about real harms, not individual feelings.[16] NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata stated, "The survey doesn't recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives. It is not respectful to who we are as Native people. This poll still doesn't make it right."[17] Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation criticized the poll for "never ask[ing] the people if the name should change" and that "no other community's ever been asked to justify their existence or deny their degradation through poll testing - not the African-American community, Latino community or Asian community, no one."[18]

Addressing the problems with the prior telephone polls, the 2020 Berkeley/Michigan University study asked questions regarding offensiveness of team names and fan behavior with more than two options, and details to determine the strength of respondents Native identification.[19]

The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) issued a statement calling the publication of the poll, and the reporting of its significance, as not only inaccurate and misleading but unethical. "The reporters and editors behind this story must have known that it would be used as justification for the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots. They were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and reporting used in this story, and neither is acceptable from any journalistic institution."[20]

While not addressing the NAJA criticism, the WaPo editorial board maintained its prior position that the name is a slur and that they will avoid its use as much as possible.[21] However, one WaPo editor and advocate for change, Robert McCartney, decided to drop any further protest in light of the poll results.[22] The editorial board reiterated their advocacy of name change in 2019, citing the opposition of Native American tribes that has resulted in the retirement of Native mascots by high schools.[23]

A Los Angeles Times editorial cites the evidence that the name is offensive to many, which the poll does not change given its questionable representation of Native American opinion.[24]

Academic studies

An alternative method to standard opinion polls was used by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino to address the self-identification issue. A survey was conducted of 400 individuals, with 98 individuals positively identified as Native Americans, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is racial or racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not racist.[25][26]

In 2020, researchers from the University of Michigan and UC Berkeley published a journal article on the results of an empirical study analyzing data from 1,021 Native Americans, twice the size of previous samples. It included Native Americans from all 50 states representing 148 tribes. 69% of participants identified as "Cisgender women; transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer", with the remaining 31% of the demographics being "Cisgender Men". The researchers found that 49% of self-identified Native Americans found the Washington Redskins name offensive or very offensive, 38% found it not offensive, and 13% were indifferent. In addition, for study participants who were heavily engaged in their native or tribal cultures, 67% said they were offended, for young people 60%, and those with tribal affiliations 52%.[27][28]

Polls of the general public

Opinions regarding name change

While varying somewhat, national opinion polls conducted during the peak of the controversy consistently indicated that a majority of the general public did not advocate a name change.

Opinions regarding offensiveness of the name

A September 2014 national poll found that 68 percent think the name is not disrespectful of Native Americans, 19 percent say it shows "some" disrespect, and 9 percent say it is "a lot" disrespectful.[32] This is in contrast to polls of DC, Maryland, and Virginia fans; a small majority of whom said that the word "redskin" is offensive to Native Americans in at least some contexts by 59 percent,[35] 56 percent,[36] and 53 percent.[37]


  1. ^ John E. Hoover (October 19, 2013). "Gray: Redskins is a slur, but other nicknames objectify Native Americans". Tulsa World. Retrieved October 20, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful "Indian" Sports Mascots (PDF) (Report). National Congress of American Indians. October 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  3. ^ Jhabvala, Nicki (February 2, 2022). "Washington Football Team announces 'Commanders' as its new name". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  4. ^ Springwood, C. F. (2004). "I'm Indian Too!": Claiming Native American Identity, Crafting Authority in Mascot Debates". Journal of Sport & Social Issues. 28 (1): 56–70. doi:10.1177/0193732503261477. S2CID 145233598.
  5. ^ S.L. Price (March 4, 2002). "The Indian Wars". Sports Illustrated. pp. 66–71.
  6. ^ C. Richard King; Ellen J. Staurowsky; Lawrence Baca; Laurel R. Davis; Cornel Pewewardy (November 2002). "Of Polls and Race Predudice". Journal of Sport and Social Issues. 26 (4): 381. doi:10.1177/0193732502238255. S2CID 145147685.
  7. ^ C. Richard King (2010). "Introduction". In C. Richard King (ed.). The Native American Mascot Controversy: A Handbook. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6731-4.
  8. ^ Kathleen Hall Jamieson Ph.D. (September 24, 2004). "Most Indians Say Name of Washington "Redskins" Is Acceptable While 9 Percent Call It Offensive". The Annenberg Public Policy Center. Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Clark, D. Anthony Tyeeme (2005). "Indigenous Voice and Vision as Commodity in a Mass-Consumption Society: The Colonial Politics of Public Opinion Polling". American Indian Quarterly. University of Nebraska Press. 29 (1/2 (Winter - Spring): 228–238. doi:10.1353/aiq.2005.0039. JSTOR 4138809. S2CID 154986058.
  10. ^ a b "11 Reasons to Ignore the 10-Year-Old Annenberg Survey About the Washington Football Team's Offensive Name". Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic. February 11, 2014.
  11. ^ "Designers of that 2004 Annenberg survey on the Redskins name: The sample was unrepresentative". Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic. August 3, 2015.
  12. ^ Cox, John Woodrow (19 May 2016). "New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren't offended by Redskins name". Washington Post. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  13. ^ Scott Clement; Emily Guskin (May 19, 2016). "How The Washington Post conducted the survey on the Redskins' name". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ "Washington Post poll of Native Americans on Redskins' team name - Survey conducted December 16, 2015 to April 12, 2016". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  15. ^ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (May 19, 2016). "Poll: 9 in 10 Native Americans Not Offended by Redskins Name". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Dr. Adrienne Keene, EdD (May 19, 2016). "WaPo's new Redsk*ns survey: Faulty data and missing the point".
  17. ^ "NCAI Response to New Poll on R*skins Team Name". May 19, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  18. ^ "Native American Leader Responds To Washington Post 'Redskins' Poll". May 21, 2016.
  19. ^ Jane Recker (February 21, 2020). "A New Study Contradicts a Washington Post Poll About How Native Americans View the Redskins' Name". The Washingtonian.
  20. ^ "NAJA and UNITY respond to recent Washington NFL team name poll". May 20, 2016.
  21. ^ Mike Florio (May 22, 2016). "Washington Post follows poll with call for name change". NBC Sports.
  22. ^ Robert McCartney (May 20, 2013). "I'm dropping my protest of Washington's football team name". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ "Schools in 2 states just retired Native American mascots. The D.C. NFL team should take note". The Washington Post. August 17, 2019.
  24. ^ Scott Martelle (May 25, 2016). "Forget the poll: 'Redskin' offends, and the NFL should drop the name". Los Angeles Times.
  25. ^ "New Study Finds 67% Of Native Americans Find Redskins Name Offensive". June 4, 2014.
  26. ^ "Survey on Redskins team name found most American Indians believe it to be offensive and racist" (PDF). Retrieved June 22, 2014.
  27. ^ Yasmin Anwar (February 4, 2020). "Washington Redskins' name, Native mascots offend more than previously reported". Berkeley News.
  28. ^ Fryberg, Stephanie A.; Eason, Arianne E.; Brady, Laura M.; Jessop, Nadia; Lopez, Julisa J. (2020). "Unpacking the Mascot Debate: Native American Identification Predicts Opposition to Native Mascots". Social Psychological and Personality Science. 12: 3–13. doi:10.1177/1948550619898556. S2CID 216371787.
  29. ^ Ben Nuckols (May 2, 2013). "US poll finds widespread support for Redskins name". AP News. Archived from the original on May 5, 2013. Retrieved September 28, 2014.
  30. ^ "60% Don't Think Washington Redskins Should Change Their Name". Rasmussen Reports. June 24, 2014.
  31. ^ "AP FACT CHECK: Trump cites questionable job approval rating". Associated Press. October 29, 2019.
  32. ^ a b "Poll: 71 percent say keep Redskins". September 2, 2014.
  33. ^ "Americans Evenly Divided on Super Bowl; Brady a Lightning Rod" (PDF). Public Policy Polling. 5 February 2016. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  34. ^ Chuck Modiano (February 26, 2016). "Hey, Dan Snyder: New poll shows young NFL fans want name change in Washington". NEW YORK DAILY NEWS.
  35. ^ "Results of SurveyUSA News Poll #20802". October 15, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  36. ^ "Should the Washington Redskins change their name?". The Washington Post. July 30, 2013. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  37. ^ Greg Cohen (September 25, 2014). "DC Speaks: Keep Redskins name". WUSA. Archived from the original on October 8, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2016.