Rise: In the recent poll 51 per cent of Americans expressed explicit anti-black attitudes while in 2008, during Obama's first presidential campaign, the number was 48 per cent

Racial attitudes have not improved in the  four years since the United States elected its first black president, an  Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express  prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or  not.

Those views could cost President Barack Obama  votes as he tries for re-election, the survey found, though the effects are  mitigated by some Americans’ more favourable views of blacks.

Racial prejudice has increased slightly since  2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked  respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that  measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic  directly.

In all, 51 per cent of Americans now express  explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 per cent in a similar 2008  survey.

Rise: In the recent poll 51 per cent of Americans expressed explicit anti-black attitudes while in 2008, during Obama’s first presidential campaign, the number was 48 per cent

When measured by an implicit racial attitudes  test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 per cent,  up from 49 per cent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the  share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

‘As much as we’d hope the impact of race  would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on  voting is about the same as it was four years ago,’ said Jon Krosnick, a  Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the  survey.

Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic  sentiments, too.

In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 per cent of  non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57  per cent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for  comparison.

The AP surveys were conducted with  researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the  University of Chicago.

Experts on race said they were not surprised  by the findings.

‘We have this false idea that there is  uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the  way history has worked,’ said Jelani Cobb, professor of history and director of  the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut.  ‘When we’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.’

Obama himself has tread cautiously on the  subject of race, but many African-Americans have talked openly about perceived  antagonism toward them since Obama took office. As evidence, they point to  events involving police brutality or cite bumper stickers, cartoons and protest  posters that mock the president as a lion or a monkey, or lynch him in  effigy.

‘Part of it is growing polarization within  American society,’ said Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for Research  in African-American Studies at Columbia University. ‘The last Democrat in the  White House said we had to have a national discussion about race. There’s been  total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you see,  whether there is silence, or an elevation of the discussion of race, you still  have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate  these deep feelings.’

Overall, the survey found that by virtue of  racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the  popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.  However, Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to  pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss  of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.

The poll finds that racial prejudice is not  limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than  Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism  (79 per cent among Republicans compared with 32 per cent among Democrats), the  implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed  a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 per  cent of Democrats and 64 per cent of Republicans), as did about half of  political independents (49 per cent).

Obama faced a similar situation in 2008, the  survey then found.

The Associated Press developed the surveys to  measure sensitive racial views in several ways and repeated those studies  several times between 2008 and 2012.

The explicit racism measures asked  respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about  black and Hispanic people. In addition, the surveys asked how well respondents  thought certain words, such as ‘friendly,’ ‘hardworking,’ ‘violent’ and ‘lazy,’  described blacks, whites and Hispanics.

The same respondents were also administered a  survey designed to measure implicit racism, in which a photo of a black,  Hispanic or white male flashed on the screen before a neutral image of a Chinese  character. The respondents were then asked to rate their feelings toward the  Chinese character. Previous research has shown that people transfer their  feelings about the photo onto the character, allowing researchers to measure  racist feelings even if a respondent does not acknowledge them.

Results from those questions were analyzed  with poll takers’ ages, partisan beliefs, views on Obama and Romney and other  factors, which allowed researchers to predict the likelihood that people would  vote for either Obama or Romney. Those models were then used to estimate the net  impact of each factor on the candidates’ support.

All the surveys were conducted online. Other  research has shown that poll takers are more likely to share unpopular attitudes  when they are filling out a survey using a computer rather than speaking with an  interviewer. Respondents were randomly selected from a nationally representative  panel maintained by GfK Custom Research.

Overall results from each survey have a  margin of sampling error of approximately plus or minus 4 percentage points. The  most recent poll, measuring anti-black views, was conducted Aug. 30 to Sept.  11.

Andra Gillespie, an Emory University  political scientist who studies race-neutrality among black politicians,  contrasted the situation to that faced by the first black mayors elected in  major U.S. cities, the closest parallel to Obama’s first-black situation. Those  mayors, she said, typically won about 20 per cent of the white vote in their  first races, but when seeking reelection they enjoyed greater white support  presumably because ‘the whites who stayed in the cities … became more  comfortable with a black executive.’

‘President Obama’s election clearly didn’t  change those who appear to be sort of hard-wired folks with racial resentment,’  she said.

Negative racial attitudes can manifest in  policy, noted Alan Jenkins, an assistant solicitor general during the Clinton  administration and now executive director of the Opportunity Agenda think  tank.

‘That has very real circumstances in the way  people are treated by police, the way kids are treated by teachers, the way home  seekers are treated by landlords and real estate agents,’ Jenkins  said.

Hakeem Jeffries, a New York state assemblyman  and candidate for a congressional seat being vacated by a fellow black Democrat,  called it troubling that more progress on racial attitudes had not been made.  Jeffries has fought a New York City police program of ‘stop and frisk’ that has  affected mostly blacks and Latinos but which supporters contend is not racially  focused.

‘I do remain cautiously optimistic that the  future of America bends toward the side of increased racial tolerance,’ Jeffries  said. ‘We’ve come a long way, but clearly these results demonstrate there’s a  long way to go.’


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