Since Obama took office, blacks more upbeat about prospects

As Obama finishes his first year in office, a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows that blacks' views on their progress have improved more than at any time in the past 25 years.

Jim Young/Reuters
President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Delaware, Tuesday.

As Barack Obama finishes his first year in office, a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows that black Americans' views on their progress in America have improved more dramatically than at any time in the past 25 years.

“The poll finds an upbeat set of black views on a wide range of matters, including race relations, local community satisfaction and expectations for future black progress,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, in a statement. On the less hopeful front, Mr. Kohut noted, “most blacks still have doubts about the basic racial fairness of American society.”

Racial controversy involving Reid

The survey’s release coincides with a controversy over racially tinged comments that Senate majority leader Harry Reid made about Mr. Obama, which are quoted in a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign. Senator Reid has apologized for saying that candidate Obama’s chances for election were improved because he was a “light-skinned” African-American who did not speak with a “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Obama has accepted Reid’s apology, but prominent Republicans are calling for Reid to resign.

While events like this show that race remains a politically charged issue, the Pew poll found that most blacks join with most whites in saying that the two racial groups have grown more alike in the past decade, both in their standard of living and in their core values.

Narrowing differences

According to Pew, 70 percent of whites and 60 percent of blacks say that the values held by blacks and whites have become more similar in the past 10 years. Likewise, a majority of blacks (56 percent) and nearly two-thirds of whites (65 percent) say that the standard-of-living gap between whites and blacks has narrowed in the past decade.

The changed views on economic fortunes, Pew notes, come even though according to statistics on median household income, blacks in the US lost ground to whites since 2000. That gap had narrowed during the previous three decades.

Survey mechanics

The nationwide survey was conducted Oct. 28 through Nov. 30 among 2,884 adults, including 812 blacks. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.
Among other key findings identified by Pew:

• There has been a big gain in the portion of blacks who say that the “situation of black people in this country” is better than it was five years ago. Some 39 percent now hold that view, versus 20 percent in 2007.

• Some 53 percent of blacks say that life for blacks in the future will be better than it is now. In 2007, only 44 percent said things would be better for blacks in the future.

• Forty-four percent of blacks say they are very satisfied with their community as a place to live. In 2007, 36 percent were satisfied.

Finally, notes, Mr. Kohut of Pew, “perceptions of Obama’s racial identity vary by race." He continues, "A majority of blacks say they think of the president as a black person, while majorities of whites and Hispanics say they think of him as a person of mixed race."


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