PRINCETON, NJ -- A year out from the 2008 presidential election, the high hopes Americans had for race relations right after Barack Obama's victory at the polls have yet to be fully realized. Currently, 41% of Americans believe race relations have gotten better since Obama's win; another 35% think they have not changed, while 22% say they have gotten worse. Last November, 70% thought race relations would improve as a result of the landmark outcome.
Fifty-three percent of blacks and 39% of whites think relations have improved overall, but only 11% of blacks and 7% of whites think they have improved a lot.
Still Holding Out Hope for the Long Term
"Sixty-one percent, nearly as high as the 70% seen in November 2008, believe race relations will improve 'in the years ahead' because of Obama's presidency."
Nonetheless, Obama has more than three years left in his first term in which to ease long-standing racial tensions in the country, and his very election establishes a lasting milestone for blacks that could continue to yield benefits for race relations long after he leaves office.
Americans' outlook on the Obama presidency's ultimate impact on relations remains quite bright. Sixty-one percent, nearly as high as the 70% seen in November 2008, believe race relations will improve "in the years ahead" because of Obama's presidency.
Black Americans are particularly optimistic about Obama's long-term impact, with 79% expecting relations to get better. This compares with 58% of non-Hispanic whites.
A Milestone and Then Some
Not only was Obama's election an important "first" for black Americans, but the majority of all Americans say it represents one of the top advances for blacks -- if not the singularly most important one -- of the past hundred years.
Close to half of blacks themselves (44%) say it is the most important advance that has taken place for blacks during that time, and another 27% call it one of the most important. Far fewer whites, 16%, consider Obama's election the most important advance for blacks of the past century, but 40% call it one of the most important.
The 58% of Americans overall who rate Obama's election as a major milestone is a bit lower than the 71% Gallup found immediately after the 2008 election. (See tables for full trend.)
Few See Risk of a Backlash
In all of this polling, from June 2008 through today, relatively few Americans have believed Obama's election could hurt U.S. race relations. Less than 20% of respondents polled in June and November 2008 believed race relations would get worse to any degree as a result of an Obama presidency. Today, 22% believe race relations have already worsened because of Obama, still a fairly small minority.
Along the same lines, a different question in the latest poll finds 24% of Americans believing Obama will go too far in promoting efforts to aid the black community, identical to the percentage who last November predicted his policies would go too far. About half of Americans say his policies in this regard will be about right.
In fact, a slightly higher percentage today than last year -- 18%, up from 8% right after the election and 9% in May and June 2008 -- say Obama's policies to aid blacks will not go far enough. Among blacks, 32% now hold this view, an increase from 20% in May and June 2008.
Recent Gallup polling documents that large percentages of black Americans (72%) believe racism against blacks in the United States is widespread; also, half (49%) doubt that blacks enjoy the same job opportunities that whites have. While whites offer significantly more optimistic assessments on both of these issues, the gaps point to a perceptual gulf between the races that may contribute to ongoing racial tensions. Although some might hope that the very election of the nation's first black president would ease or eliminate these tensions, fewer than half of Americans believe such strides are already apparent. Nevertheless, widespread hope endures that long-term, Obama's election will make a positive difference.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,521 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 16-19, 2009, including an oversample of 408 blacks, consisting of 102 interviews done as part of the random national sample and 306 interviews with blacks who had previously participated in national Gallup polls and agreed to be re-interviewed at a later date. The data from the national sample and re-interviews are combined and weighted to be demographically representative of the national adult population in the United States and to reflect the proper proportion of blacks in the overall population. For results based on this sample of national adults, the maximum margin of error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 408 blacks, the maximum margin of error is ±6 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 933 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.