Public attitudes about race relations have plummeted since the historic election of President Barack Obama, according to a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
Only 52 percent of whites and 38 percent of blacks have a favorable opinion of race relations in the country, according to the poll, which has tracked race relations since 1994 and was conducted in mid-July by Hart Research Associations and Public Opinion Strategies.
That’s a sharp drop from the beginning of Obama’s first term, when 79 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks held a favorable view of American race relations.
Negative views on race relations have also increased substantially. According to the poll [pdf], 45 percent of whites and 58 percent African-Americans now believe race relations are very or fairly bad, compared with 2009, when only 20 percent of whites and 30 percent of blacks held an unfavorable view.
Although the NBC/WSJ survey addressed the politically fueled Trayvon Martin controversy only obliquely (asking how the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Martin’s shooting death had affected respondents’ views of the legal system), the survey’s historical time frame — which shows the steepest declines in positives and increases in negatives coming in the last two years — suggests the firestorm over the Martin case played a role in diminishing the high solidarity between whites and blacks that was exemplified by Obama’s election.
By November 2011, three years after Obama’s election, only 22 percent of whites and 41 percent of African-Americans believed that race relations were fairly bad or very bad. Positive views have fallen correspondingly since November 2011, when 75 percent of whites and 57 percent of blacks said race relations were either good or very good.
Obama garnered intense criticism in March 2012 for weighing in on the shooting death of Martin, announcing, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Obama went a step further in July 2013, after the acquittal of neighborhood watchman Zimmerman in Martin’s death, declaring, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
As The Daily Caller reported, the Obama administration’s Justice Department sent a unit with a history of anti-white racial advocacy to Sanford, Florida to help facilitate protests in the area calling for Zimmerman’s prosecution in 2012, including a major rally headlined by activist Al Sharpton.
The bitter 2012 election, which saw Obama running on a stagnating economy and his supporters mounting intense attacks on challenger Mitt Romney, may also have contributed to the souring of race relations. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which steadfastly supports the Obama administration, distributed pro-Obama election flyers in 2012 with lynching and Ku Klux Klan imagery.
Although these efforts may have helped boost African-American turnout to record levels and deliver the key states of Florida and Ohio to Obama, they do not appear to have done much for black Americans. The black unemployment rate in the United States is currently 13.7 percent, more than six points higher than the national unemployment rate, which stands at 7.6 percent.
Overall, the public’s view of race-relations has fallen back to levels reported in 1994 and 2007.
The increased division is a long way from the hope for improved race relations that fueled and accompanied Obama’s 2008 victory.
“It’s all about the coalition of the willing,” Michael Stewart, a progressive activist, told The Chicago Tribune in November 2009. “I’ve come to appreciate people as individuals, not by their race [and] there’s more a focus on what we have in common than what divides us.”