On Race Relations, Present and Future

When Barack Obama won the presidency last November, 70 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll thought this would usher in an improvement in race relations in the U.S. Now, a poll released this month by Gallup (based on October fieldwork) finds opinion mixed about whether such a change has occurred.

Seven percent of respondents said they think race relations have gotten “a lot better” because of Obama’s election, and another 34 percent think they’ve gotten “a little better.” But a majority believe relations either have not changed (35 percent) or have worsened (16 percent “somewhat,” 6 percent “a lot”).

Still, 61 percent of respondents think race relations in this country will improve “in the years ahead” due to the Obama presidency. Black respondents were more likely than non-Hispanic whites (79 percent vs. 58 percent) to say so.

More broadly, Gallup asked whether “relations between blacks and whites will always be a problem for the U.S.” or “a solution will eventually be worked out.” Opinion on this has bounced around over the years, but now stands where it did when Gallup began asking the question in 1964. Fifty-six percent believe things will be worked out; 40 percent think race relations will always be a problem.

Though more upbeat than whites on what Gallup terms the “Obama effect,” black respondents were more pessimistic on the pollster’s long-term question: 42 percent of blacks, vs. 59 percent of whites, think a solution will eventually be worked out for the problem of race relations.