Poll: Post-Obama, Black Americans More Optimistic
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Blacks in this country are showing a sharp rise in optimism about the state of black progress. That's according to a new survey on racial attitudes from the Pew Research Center. It was conducted in association with NPR. And the survey attributes that surge in optimism among African-Americans to the election of Barack Obama as president.
Andrew Kohut joins us to talk about the findings. He's president of the Pew Research Center. Andy, welcome back.
Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Happy to be here, Melissa.
BLOCK: And your findings are that, overall, 39 percent of blacks say African-Americans are better off now than they were five years ago - 39 percent. How sharp a rise is that?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, two years ago, the same question with a comparable sample, only 20 percent of African-Americans said that about the condition of blacks compared to five years ago. So there is a large increase in this assessment. It's the largest that we've seen in nearly a quarter of a century. And it's part of a broader pattern of African-Americans expressing more positive views one year after the election of Barack Obama.
Is Barack Obama's election the cause of this? Well, you can't prove it. But the changes in African-American attitudes are so widespread, so broad, the only inference that I can come to is that there's an Obama effect, and it's been a very positive effect on the views of black Americans.
BLOCK: And just to clarify, that 39 percent number does not mean that the remaining 61 percent of African-Americans think they're worse off now - in fact, far from it.
Mr. KOHUT: For the most part, many say no different. Relatively few say worse off.
BLOCK: One point you make in the survey is that the optimistic number that we've been talking about runs counter to the economic realities during this recession.
Mr. KOHUT: Absolutely. There is increased optimism in this survey at a time of the great recession. Two years ago, and only 44 percent of African-Americans said that the future for blacks are going to be better. In the current survey, it was 53 percent. We find a large percentage of African-Americans in this environment saying that the gap between black standard of living and white standard of living has narrowed.
BLOCK: Andy Kohut, you also asked questions about Barack Obama himself, including one where you asked people if they think of Obama as black or mixed race. What did you find?
Mr. KOHUT: We found a huge gap in the way blacks and whites responded to this question. Among whites, 53 percent said Obama is of mixed race. Only 24 percent said I think of him as black. Among blacks, 55 percent said he's black and only 34 percent said he's of mixed race.
BLOCK: And what does that tell you?
Mr. KOHUT: And it's a signal to what we found more broadly about Barack Obama. And that is he's not being defined by many whites in racial terms. And, yes, there's a correlation between attitudes toward Obama's performance and personal valuations of him by race. But we see many of Obama's white critics holding pretty tolerant attitudes toward race and having a more positive view of blacks.
BLOCK: Andy, when you look broadly at the findings of this recent survey, where do you see issues that point to an ongoing racial divide; in other words, that we are nowhere near a post-racial society in this country?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, certainly, attitudes of African-Americans are better. But we still see wide gaps on many questions. 34 percent of blacks say the reason why blacks aren't making more progress is racism. Only 15 percent of whites hold that view. There are differences in levels of life satisfaction between whites and blacks, and differences in levels of satisfaction with their communities and views of the police.
These are all longstanding differences in the way whites and blacks look at things. And even though there are much improved attitudes among African-Americans, there's no great sea change in the views on racial issues.
BLOCK: Andy, thanks very much.
Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.
BLOCK: Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.
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