Fewer Americans think Obama has advanced race relations, poll shows

By Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2010

Soaring expectations about the effect of the first black president on U.S. race relations have collided with a more mundane reality, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

On the eve of President Obama's inauguration a year ago, nearly six in 10 Americans said his presidency would advance cross-racial ties. Now, about four in 10 say it has done so.

The falloff has been highest among African Americans. Last January, three-quarters of blacks said they expected Obama's presidency to help. In the new poll, 51 percent of African Americans say he has helped, a wider gap between expectations and performance than among whites.

Although most of all those polled view Obama's election as a mark of progress for all African Americans, three in 10 say it is not indicative of broader change. About two-thirds see Obama's election as a sign of progress for all blacks in the United States, a figure unchanged from last year, but about half say his time in office has not made much difference in race relations. One in eight say it has hurt relations.

The new poll showed little change in the views of African Americans' current standing in society. About seven in 10 say blacks have already reached or will soon attain racial equality, about on par with the share saying so last January and during the 2008 presidential campaign. About two in 10 say equality will not happen in their lifetimes, and about one in 10 believe it will never happen.

African Americans' views on achieving racial equality have become more pessimistic since the inauguration, returning to their preelection levels. The share saying blacks have reached racial equality dropped 9 percentage points, to 11 percent, and the percentage saying equality will not be achieved in their lifetimes climbed 9 points, to 32 percent. About one in five blacks say they will never achieve racial equality. Among whites, four in 10 say African Americans already have it and 31 percent say it will happen soon.

The political polarization that drives much opinion about Obama's presidency carries over to perceptions of his impact on race relations as well. Among Democrats, about six in 10 say his presidency has helped race relations, compared with about four in 10 independents and just a quarter of Republicans. Expectations were high across party lines a year ago, with 75 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of independents and 43 percent of Republicans predicting that Obama's would help relations.

There is less of a partisan divide on whether Obama's election itself was a sign of progress for all blacks: 72 percent of Democrats say so, as do majorities of Republicans (59 percent) and independents (63 percent).

The poll was conducted by telephone from Jan. 12 to 15 among a random sample of 1,083 adults. The full results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. For the 153 African Americans polled, the results have an 8 percentage point margin of error.

For the complete poll, visit http://washingtonpost.com/politics.

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