Stay Updated on Developing Stories

Race relations are now front-of-mind for 2020 voters

(CNN) Amid ongoing protests over unequal treatment of black Americans and police brutality, historic unemployment and a pandemic that has disproportionately battered black communities, the conversation in this country has clearly shifted.

According to a new CNN poll, "With 42% of Americans calling race relations extremely important to their vote for president this fall, the issue now stands on par with the economy and health care near the top of campaign issues," writes CNN polling director Jenn Agiesta (emphasis mine).

Among those prioritizing race relations, there's a demographic and political split. Most black voters call it extremely important: 61%. That's an increase from the 34% of black voters who said the same in 2015.

Right now, 60% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters say race relations are extremely important. Compare that with just 18% of Republicans and Republican-leaners who said the same.

Let's contextualize this poll -- it was taken June 2 through 5, reaching voters nationwide.

Protests have raged in the US for two weeks, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed while in police custody, as well as the recent killings of others like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The nationwide spread of anti-racism protests has led to calls to defund or demilitarize police departments.

On June 2, social media was inundated with black boxes as a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. By June 5, Washington's mayor commissioned a large mural with the letters "Black Lives Matter" painted across two streets outside of the White House. Between those days, tens of thousands protested and spoke up in ways unseen in a generation.

The presidential election is still more than four months away and it's hard to predict whether this same conversation will continue at the current pitch through November. Four months ago we were heading into the New Hampshire primary, with front-runner Bernie Sanders, and a Washington emerging from Trump's impeachment fight. Remember that?!

Four months is a long way away, but that's not to say this conversation will disappear. Race relations will stay top-of-mind if voters keep it that way.

Democrats' climbing emphasis on race relations will likely have an instant impact on the one major decision being made right now: Joe Biden's VP search. Don't expect an announcement soon, but the field of candidates for Biden to pick from is now led by black women (as Chris wrote last week).

The Point: New polling shows just how much the conversation around race is resonating -- and right now, it has totally grabbed the public's focus. It will be up to 2020 voters to decide if that stays true through November.