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Fifty Years After Kent State: Americans See It Differently

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In 1970, the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest concluded that the shootings at Kent State University occurred in “the most divisive time in America since the Civil War.” When asked about the current climate in America in 2020, 41 percent of Americans polled said the country is more divided now than in 1970. 

The survey was conducted by Emerson College Polling in conjunction with a Zoom event on the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, held Monday, May 4, 3:00-4:00 pm. For more information on how to join, visit Emerson Polling.

Twenty-two percent of those polled said it is less divided now than in 1970, 20 percent said it is about the same, and 17 percent had no opinion. 

“That we are more divided today than after the shootings at Kent State, especially in the wake of the pandemic, reflects that there are critical and immediate challenges for leaders at all levels of American society, as was the case in 1970,” said Greg Payne, chair of Communication Studies and Kent State expert. 

In assessing blame for the shootings, 36 percent believe the National Guard was responsible, 13 percent blamed the students were responsible, 9 percent said Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes was responsible, and 8 percent blamed President Richard Nixon. Among those under 60, 45 percent blamed the National Guard, as compared to 23 percent of those over 60 who hold the Guard responsible. Nineteen percent of those over 60 think students were responsible, and 26 percent said they did not know.

“In contrast to polls in 1970 that approved of the Guards’ actions at Kent State, 50 years later the consensus, more so among those [younger than 60] is in line with the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest that the shootings were ‘unwarranted, inexcusable, and unnecessary,'” Payne said.

For more on Kent State and how Americans view the current pandemic, visit Emerson Polling

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