Racial attitudes have not improved in theÂ four years since the United States elected its first black president, anÂ Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now expressÂ prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings orÂ not.
Those views could cost President Barack ObamaÂ votes as he tries for re-election, the survey found, though the effects areÂ mitigated by some Americans’ more favourable views of blacks.
Racial prejudice has increased slightly sinceÂ 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly askedÂ respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test thatÂ measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topicÂ directly.
In all, 51 per cent of Americans now expressÂ explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 per cent in a similar 2008Â survey.
When measured by an implicit racial attitudesÂ test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 per cent,Â up from 49 per cent during the last presidential election. In both tests, theÂ share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
‘As much as we’d hope the impact of raceÂ would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment onÂ voting is about the same as it was four years ago,’ said Jon Krosnick, aÂ Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop theÂ survey.
Most Americans expressed anti-HispanicÂ sentiments, too.
In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 per cent ofÂ non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57Â per cent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data forÂ comparison.
The AP surveys were conducted withÂ researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at theÂ University of Chicago.
Experts on race said they were not surprisedÂ by the findings.
‘We have this false idea that there isÂ uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not theÂ way history has worked,’ said Jelani Cobb, professor of history and director ofÂ the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut.Â ‘When we’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.’
Obama himself has tread cautiously on theÂ subject of race, but many African-Americans have talked openly about perceivedÂ antagonism toward them since Obama took office. As evidence, they point toÂ events involving police brutality or cite bumper stickers, cartoons and protestÂ posters that mock the president as a lion or a monkey, or lynch him inÂ effigy.
‘Part of it is growing polarization withinÂ American society,’ said Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for ResearchÂ in African-American Studies at Columbia University. ‘The last Democrat in theÂ White House said we had to have a national discussion about race. There’s beenÂ total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you see,Â whether there is silence, or an elevation of the discussion of race, you stillÂ have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminateÂ these deep feelings.’
Overall, the survey found that by virtue ofÂ racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of theÂ popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.Â However, Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due toÂ pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net lossÂ of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.
The poll finds that racial prejudice is notÂ limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely thanÂ Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racismÂ (79 per cent among Republicans compared with 32 per cent among Democrats), theÂ implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showedÂ a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 perÂ cent of Democrats and 64 per cent of Republicans), as did about half ofÂ political independents (49 per cent).
Obama faced a similar situation in 2008, theÂ survey then found.
The Associated Press developed the surveys toÂ measure sensitive racial views in several ways and repeated those studiesÂ several times between 2008 and 2012.
The explicit racism measures askedÂ respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements aboutÂ black and Hispanic people. In addition, the surveys asked how well respondentsÂ thought certain words, such as ‘friendly,’ ‘hardworking,’ ‘violent’ and ‘lazy,’Â described blacks, whites and Hispanics.
The same respondents were also administered aÂ survey designed to measure implicit racism, in which a photo of a black,Â Hispanic or white male flashed on the screen before a neutral image of a ChineseÂ character. The respondents were then asked to rate their feelings toward theÂ Chinese character. Previous research has shown that people transfer theirÂ feelings about the photo onto the character, allowing researchers to measureÂ racist feelings even if a respondent does not acknowledge them.
Results from those questions were analyzedÂ with poll takers’ ages, partisan beliefs, views on Obama and Romney and otherÂ factors, which allowed researchers to predict the likelihood that people wouldÂ vote for either Obama or Romney. Those models were then used to estimate the netÂ impact of each factor on the candidates’ support.
All the surveys were conducted online. OtherÂ research has shown that poll takers are more likely to share unpopular attitudesÂ when they are filling out a survey using a computer rather than speaking with anÂ interviewer. Respondents were randomly selected from a nationally representativeÂ panel maintained by GfK Custom Research.
Overall results from each survey have aÂ margin of sampling error of approximately plus or minus 4 percentage points. TheÂ most recent poll, measuring anti-black views, was conducted Aug. 30 to Sept.Â 11.
Andra Gillespie, an Emory UniversityÂ political scientist who studies race-neutrality among black politicians,Â contrasted the situation to that faced by the first black mayors elected inÂ major U.S. cities, the closest parallel to Obama’s first-black situation. ThoseÂ mayors, she said, typically won about 20 per cent of the white vote in theirÂ first races, but when seeking reelection they enjoyed greater white supportÂ presumably because ‘the whites who stayed in the cities … became moreÂ comfortable with a black executive.’
‘President Obama’s election clearly didn’tÂ change those who appear to be sort of hard-wired folks with racial resentment,’Â she said.
Negative racial attitudes can manifest inÂ policy, noted Alan Jenkins, an assistant solicitor general during the ClintonÂ administration and now executive director of the Opportunity Agenda thinkÂ tank.
‘That has very real circumstances in the wayÂ people are treated by police, the way kids are treated by teachers, the way homeÂ seekers are treated by landlords and real estate agents,’ JenkinsÂ said.
Hakeem Jeffries, a New York state assemblymanÂ and candidate for a congressional seat being vacated by a fellow black Democrat,Â called it troubling that more progress on racial attitudes had not been made.Â Jeffries has fought a New York City police program of ‘stop and frisk’ that hasÂ affected mostly blacks and Latinos but which supporters contend is not raciallyÂ focused.
‘I do remain cautiously optimistic that theÂ future of America bends toward the side of increased racial tolerance,’ JeffriesÂ said. ‘We’ve come a long way, but clearly these results demonstrate there’s aÂ long way to go.’