WASHINGTON — Despite a recession that's disproportionately affected their community, African-Americans are dramatically more upbeat about their progress in this country than at any time during the past quarter century, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.
Barack Obama's election as the nation's first African-American president is credited for the increased optimism that's reflected in a range of issues, including race relations and expectations for further African-American progress.
"It's the politics of expectations," said Ronald Walters, a retired University of Maryland political science professor. "It's having an African-American president and the hope that, when all is said and done, he will help (African-Americans). Those of us who have been critical of him for things he hasn't done in the first year, even we expect he will do something."
In the survey, 39 percent of African-Americans said "the situation of black people in this country" is better off now than it was five years ago, almost double the 20 percent who said that in 2007.
Even enduring a recession and jobless recovery that's created a 15.6 percent African-American unemployment rate — and a 49.4 percent jobless rate among African-American males age 16-19 — hasn't dampened blacks' optimism about the future.
Fifty-three percent of African-Americans said life for African-Americans in the future will be better than it is now, while only 10 percent predicted that things would get worse. In 2007, 44 percent said things would get better and 21 percent said worse.
Obama's election also appears to have affected the public's perception of race relations in the country. Fifty-four percent of African-Americans said that Obama's election has improved race relations, while only 7 percent said it's made relations worse.
Whites also noted progress, but by a smaller margin. Forty-five percent of whites said Obama's election has made no difference in race relations, 32 percent said it's made things better, and 15 percent said race relations have worsened.
In addition, the perceptions of African-Americans and whites regarding living standards and values are becoming more alike, the Pew poll found. Seven-in-10 whites and six-in-10 African-Americans said the values held by African-Americans and whites have become more similar during the past 10 years.
In addition, 56 percent of African-Americans and 65 percent of whites said the standard of living gap between African-Americans and whites has narrowed in the past 10 years.
The two groups continue to differ over discrimination, however. About 43 percent of African-Americans now say there's a lot of discrimination against blacks, about the same as 2001. Just 13 percent of whites said there's a lot of discrimination now, down from 20 percent in 2001.
The poll also found a black-white divide over Obama's ethnic background. Fifty-five percent of African-Americans said Obama is an African-American, while 34 percent said he's of mixed race. Whites' opinions split in almost opposite proportion: 53 percent said he's of mixed race, while 24 percent said he's African-American. Obama's father was black, and his mother was white.
Poll Methodology: The Pew Research Center polls was a telephone survey conducted Oct. 28, 2009, to Nov. 30, 2009, with a national sample of 2,884 adults, including 812 African-Americans, 18 years old and older. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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