Obama's Ferguson rhetoric: How are blacks, whites reacting?

President Obama hasn't won big praise – but also apparently hasn't polarized the public deeply – with his handling of the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., after a black teen was killed by a white police officer.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Obama speaks in the press briefing room in the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014.

If the US public were to judge with one word President Obama’s response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., and subsequent turmoil, it might be this: “meh.”

That appears to be the bottom line from a new CBS News/New York Times poll on the subject. Voters responded to Mr. Obama’s handling of the situation with a collective shrug of the shoulders, according to survey results. A plurality of 41 percent said they were satisfied with his response. Thirty-four percent said they were dissatisfied, while 25 percent said they had no opinion.

Crack open this overall finding, however, and you’ll find that different demographic or ideological subgroups have viewed Obama’s response with more feeling.

Sixty percent of African-Americans – a solid majority – said they were satisfied with Obama’s handling of post-shooting tensions, according to CBS/NYT findings. Only 35 percent of whites said the same thing.

Self-described Democrats were largely supportive as well. Sixty-one percent said they approved of Obama’s moves on Ferguson. Only 25 percent of Republicans, and 36 percent of independents, agreed.

It isn’t surprising these groups should feel this way. Blacks and Democrats are far more approving of Obama’s job performance in general than are whites and Republicans. In Gallup’s latest findings, Obama’s job approval rating among African-Americans is 86 percent. Among Democrats, it’s 80 percent.

But are they solidly behind the president here? Or just reflexively approving of a politician whose other goals they support?

Yes, 60 percent of blacks are in favor of Obama’s Ferguson actions. But that’s 26 points lower than the president’s overall African-American approval rating. They are less happy with Obama on this subject than on his other policy actions, apparently.

It’s “pretty clear that the president’s extremely careful approach to what’s happening in Ferguson isn’t winning him plaudits among his most loyal constituency – which also happens to be the constituency most interested in what transpired and will transpire in Ferguson,” writes Aaron Blake on the Washington Post “Fix” political blog.

Conversely, Obama’s approval rating for Ferguson among whites is 35 percent. That’s higher than his latest general approval rating among whites as measured by Gallup: 30 percent.

That same dynamic is true for the Democrat/Republican split. Sixty-one percent of Democrats are behind Obama on Ferguson, while his overall Democratic approval rating is 80 percent, per Gallup. Twenty-five percent of Republicans back his Ferguson moves – but his overall approval rating among members of the GOP is a dismal 7 percent.

It’s early in the cycle of this crisis, and the numbers here are limited. But these poll results suggest that Obama’s words on Ferguson have not polarized the electorate to the extent of some of his other actions.

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