A USA Today/Gallup Poll this month finds that more Americans believe race relations have gotten better since President Barack Obama was elected. But the poll finds that fewer Americans feel that way than did in the year of Obama’s inauguration.
According to the poll, 35 percent of Americans say race relations have gotten better, while 23 percent say they’ve gotten worse. In October 2009, the split was 41 percent to 22 percent.
The poll was taken August 4-7, and was conducted in anticipation of Sunday’s dedication of a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington.
Blacks were more likely in the poll to say race relations have improved under Obama, with 48 percent having that assessment, while 31 percent of whites agree. Those saying race relations have gotten worse include 24 percent of blacks and 22 percent of whites, while 27 percent of blacks and 45 percent of whites say race relations remain unchanged.
Younger respondents, aged 18-34, were the most likely to say race relations have improved (42 percent) while those aged 55 and older were the least likely (32 percent) to say the same.
The poll also found that the percentage of Americans who see Obama’s election as a milestone for black Americans has declined, with just 42 percent saying it is one of the most important advances for black Americans in the last 100 years. After Obama was inaugurated, 71 percent of Gallup respondents saw Obama’s election as an historic milestone.
Whites saw the steepest decline in the perception of Obama’s election as among the most important advances for blacks in the last century, with 56 percent saying so in 2009, and just 37 percent saying so today. The 20-point drop contrasts with a 6 percent decline in that perception among blacks, from 71 percent to 65 percent.
Overall, the pollsters said the perception of Obama’s election as an historic milestone, and as a harbinger of improved race relations, was strongest among blacks, Democrats and younger Americans — and weakest among older Americans and whites. The increased pessimism about race was slight among white and older Americans, but it is there.