But a majority of Americans don't believe Obama has affected race
relations in the US one way or the other, according to a new Monitor/
Blacks and Republicans are more likely than anyone else to say
that the presidency of Barack Obama, America's first black chief
executive, has impaired race relations in the United States and made
race more difficult to discuss.
But more broadly, according to a new Christian Science Monitor/
TIPP poll, a majority of Americans - in both genders and across all
ages, incomes, political persuasions, and races - don't believe the
Obama presidency has had any effect on race relations in the US
beyond affirming the country's willingness to move past race as a
factor in presidential electability.
"The majority of Americans polled felt [Mr. Obama's race] was not
a factor [in race relations]," says Raghavan Mayur, the TIPP
pollster in Ramsey, N.J. "Most people look at him not in terms of
race; they look to him as the president of the country."
Since his inauguration, Obama has walked a tightrope, dividing
America more by class than by race when he's talked about forcing
the rich to pay a larger share of the US tax burden. His comments on
race have been both eloquent - for example, the Philadelphia "race"
speech during the 2008 primary season - and awkward, as in last
year's episode in which he said that Cambridge, Mass., police "acted
stupidly" in arresting his friend, Harvard professor Henry Louis
"Obama's liberal supporters have made a big deal about him
becoming the first black president, and his detractors have made a
big deal about him supposedly practicing reverse discrimination,"
says political historian Jason Sokol. "He's always been in a
But at least some black scholars hold Obama accountable for
raising the racial stakes.
Carol Swain, a law professor and race expert at Vanderbilt
University in Nashville, Tenn., raises several examples, including
the Gates affair and Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the Supreme
Court. In these examples, she says, "it seems like Obama has made
race more salient in a negative sort of way that will make white
people feel like they're not represented."
The poll findings come on the heels of several high-profile
racial flash points this summer and ahead of midterm elections that
will determine the balance of power in Washington. Thirty-two
percent of Republicans say race relations have worsened (and 8
percent say they've improved), while 37 percent of Democrats say
they're better (16 percent say they're worse).
Some liberal groups, such as the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), have publicly chided one of
Obama's main opposition groups, the "tea party" movement, for
allegedly harboring racists.
Conservatives have fired back, saying that what experts call
"nonfalsifiable claims of racism" - i.e., using the race card - has
become an irrelevant tactic in the eyes of most Americans.
The Monitor/TIPP poll findings don't surprise Gerard Alexander, a
political scientist at the University of Virginia in