WASHINGTON - 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 people's more favorable 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 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black
attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When
measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of
Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from
49 percent 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 the AP to develop the survey.
Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an AP
survey done last year, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed
anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the
implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for
The AP surveys were conducted with researchers from Stanford
University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of
Experts on race said they were not surprised by the findings.
PROGRESS THEN BACKLASH
"We have this false idea that there is uniformity in progress and
that things change in one big step," said Jelani Cobb, professor of
history and director of the Institute for African-American Studies
at the University of Connecticut. "That is not the way history has
worked. When we've seen progress, we've also seen backlash."
Obama has trod 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
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