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Iowa pollsters: Americans divided over NFL players kneeling during anthem

From left, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and free safety Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the national anthem before an NFL game on Oct 6, 2016.  (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports/File Photo)
From left, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and free safety Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the national anthem before an NFL game on Oct 6, 2016. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports/File Photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Forget religion and politics.

“If you want to start an argument ... just ask a group what they think about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem,” says pollster J. Ann Selzer, whose poll of American adults found feelings about what professional football players do, or don’t do, during the playing of the national anthem are as intense as news coverage suggests.

A Grinnell College National Poll conducted less than one week before the National Football League kickoff Thursday night found that 35 percent of Americans strongly believe all players should stand during the national anthem and 36 percent strongly believe players should be able to kneel if they choose.

There was little middle ground. One in 10 polled did not have strong feelings about the issue. Another 15 percent said they didn’t care.

Players, led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, started kneeling to protest police brutality and racial inequality.

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

“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 Trish, a political science professor at Grinnell.

The issue divides people along political and generational lines. Nearly 7 in 10 — 69 percent — of Republicans strongly believe players should stand, while 59 percent of Democrats strongly believe they should be allowed to kneel.

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Support for standing increases sharply with age, from 18 percent for adults under age 35 to 48 percent for those age 55 and older. 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.

The poll also found that 51 percent of Americans are not convinced NFL team owners are doing enough to address problems of head injuries and concussions compared with 29 percent who say they are doing enough.

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

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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