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Poll: Racial attitudes have not improved in U.S.

Published: Sun, November 4, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.

Associated Press


Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.

Those views could cost President Barack Obama votes as he tries for re-election, the survey found, though the effects are mitigated by some people’s more favorable views of blacks.

Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly.

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey.

When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.

In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

“As much as we’d hope the impact of race would decline over time ... it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago,” said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the survey.

Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too.

In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non- Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test.

The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.

The AP surveys were conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Experts on race said they were not surprised by the findings.

“We have this false idea that there is uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the way history has worked,” said Jelani Cobb, professor of history and director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut. “When we’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.”

Obama has tread cautiously on the subject of race, but many black Americans have talked openly about perceived antagonism toward them since Obama took office.

As evidence, they point to events involving police brutality or cite bumper stickers, cartoons and protest posters that mock the president as a lion or a monkey, or lynch him in effigy.

“Part of it is growing polarization within American society,” said Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. “The last Democrat in the White House said we had to have a national discussion about race. There’s been total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you see, whether there is silence, or an elevation of the discussion of race, you still have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate these deep feelings.”

Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Tuesday contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

But Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.

The poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans.

Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism — 79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats — the implicit test found little difference between the two parties.

That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans had anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).

Obama faced a similar situation in 2008, the survey then found.

The AP developed the surveys to measure sensitive racial views in several ways and repeated those studies several times between 2008 and 2012.

The explicit racism measures asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about black and Hispanic people.

In addition, the surveys asked how well respondents thought certain words, such as “friendly,” “hardworking,” “violent” and “lazy,” described blacks, whites and Hispanics.

The same respondents were also administered a survey designed to measure implicit racism, in which a photo of a black, Hispanic or white male flashed on the screen before a neutral image of a Chinese character.

The respondents were then asked to rate their feelings toward the Chinese character. Previous research has shown that people transfer their feelings about the photo onto the character, allowing researchers to measure racist feelings even if a respondent does not acknowledge them.

Results from those questions were analyzed with poll-takers’ ages, partisan beliefs, views on Obama and Romney and other factors, which allowed researchers to predict the likelihood that people would vote for either Obama or Romney. Those models were then used to estimate the net impact of each factor on the candidates’ support.

All the surveys were conducted online.

Other research has shown that poll takers are more likely to share unpopular attitudes when they are filling out a survey using a computer rather than speaking with an interviewer.

Respondents were randomly selected from a nationally representative panel maintained by GfK Custom Research.

Overall results from each survey have a margin of sampling error of approximately plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The most recent poll, measuring anti-black views, was conducted Aug. 30 to Sept. 11.

Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political scientist who studies race-neutrality among black politicians, contrasted the situation to that faced by the first black mayors elected in major U.S. cities, the closest parallel to Obama’s first-black situation.

Those mayors, she said, typically won about 20 percent of the white vote in their first races, but when seeking re-election they enjoyed greater white support presumably because “the whites who stayed in the cities ... became more comfortable with a black executive.”

“President Obama’s election clearly didn’t change those who appear to be sort of hard-wired folks with racial resentment,” she said.

Negative racial attitudes can manifest in policy, noted Alan Jenkins, an assistant solicitor general during the Clinton administration and now executive director of the Opportunity Agenda think tank.

“That has very real circumstances in the way people are treated by police, the way kids are treated by teachers, the way home-seekers are treated by landlords and real-estate agents,” Jenkins said.

Hakeem Jeffries, a New York state assemblyman and candidate for a congressional seat being vacated by a fellow black Democrat, called it troubling that more progress on racial attitudes had not been made.

“I do remain cautiously optimistic that the future of America bends toward the side of increased racial tolerance,” Jeffries said. “We’ve come a long way, but clearly these results demonstrate there’s a long way to go.”


1bmanresident(607 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

This is just absurd. How about the ANTI WHITE sentiment that is felt among the black community. Just take a stroll through the South(side)ern Park Mall and you can observe the anti white attitudes. This article is just an example of people making excuses for Obama's poor performance.

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2NoBS(2757 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

If racism is still around, and is growing, maybe part of the reason for it is that we never stop hearing about it!! Every single day we see, hear, and read "news" stories designed to pit "us" against "them." This poll is a perfect example. How is a sore supposed to heal when it's constantly picked at?

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376Ytown(1339 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

I know of no one and have heard of no one who uses race as the reason for the failure of this president although race was a strong reason for electing him to office. Really, whoever wrote this article wants to resort to the race card as the reason for Obama's failure? This type of division is sickening.

This man promised hope and change. He did not perform. The man promised transparency. He has not been up front with the American people.

Some of Obama's quotes and promises:

“Today, I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office.” — Obama, Feb. 23, 2009

“I will make [comprehensive immigration reform] a top priority in my first year as president.” — He's again promising that in his first year if reelected.

“We will help between 7 [million] and 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages so they can … avoid foreclosure.” — Obama, Feb. 18, 2009

“Guantánamo will be closed no later than one year from now.”— Obama, Jan. 22, 2009

Obama set a bold goal in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2010, suggesting that within a year, he could help achieve the kind of Middle East peace deal that eluded many U.S. presidents

The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents — #43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.
We're now at over $16 trillion, over $50,000 for every man, woman and child. http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Compare what he promised in 2008 and now 2012 (side by side campaign pledges)


Here's a promise that I hope is kept:

“I will be held accountable,” Obama said. “I’ve got four years and … A year form now, I think people are going to see that we’re starting to make some progress, but there’s still going to be some pain out there … If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

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4Lifes2Short(3882 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

So basically this article is saying, people are voting because of the color of one's skin. Really?

And bmanresident, I totally agree. If there is any racial discrimination going on, it's the blacks that have this hatred for whites. They STILL bring up the slavery and discrimination days like it just happened yesterday. They have to forget the past, it's over and done with. Move on. They think our generation did all that. If anything, the blacks have more rights, loopholes, opportunities, etc. then whites. They need to learn to work with whites so then everyone can be happy. So sick and tired of the race card and this make believe world they have of racism. Everytime I ask where the racism is, they have no answer.

Watch, never fells, replies will say I'm racist for making my comments. So typical.

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5Photoman(1245 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

The great divider remains in the White House.

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6andersonathan(683 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

Some weekend quotes.

Romney: Vote because you Love America

Obama: Asks voters to vote with a vengeance.

But hey if i support Cain, Condi or Allen and others and do not Like Obama I am a racist.

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7MLC75(660 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm not a sheep,I disagree with Obama from time to time,that does not mean I'm a racist.I just have my own thoughts and do not drink any of the kool-aid from either party.

Those that like to accuse people of being a racist,just because they disagree, are trying to guilt people.Sorry but that doesn't work for me.

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8CordaydArmont(2 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

I am adverse to socialism so I must therefore be a racist?

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9rocky14(830 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

I have had Republicans personally tell me they would never vote for a "n.....

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10Louis(1 comment)posted 3 years, 7 months ago

The comments above if not so pathetic would be hilarious. Many are actually proving the point made in the study. It's actually fascinating how people can be so blind to their own prejudice.

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11Lifes2Short(3882 comments)posted 3 years, 7 months ago


What is pathetic?

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