Racial Attitudes in America: Post-Racial in the Age of Obama Fails to Exist

Reference: University of Arkansas

Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society
Winthrop Rockefeller Institute


Findings from the Blair-Rockefeller poll

On the heels of the 2010 midterm elections, the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society, together with Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, conducted a comprehensive online national poll of political attitudes and behaviors. The Blair-Rockefeller Poll oversampled participants from the Southern region of the United States, as well as oversampling African Americans and Latinos, providing unique perspectives on contemporary politics. With over 3,400 respondents from across the nation, the Blair-Rockefeller Poll provides a comprehensive and uniquely accurate perspective on how the country evaluates public figures and current public policies – and how these evaluations vary across race and geographic region. Following the recent Republican take-over of Congress and the reported GOP gains resulting from voters’ negative reactions to a sluggish economy, the Blair-Rockefeller Poll included several questions asking respondents about their current economic situation as well as their future economic outlook.


Topic Report:
Racial Attitudes in America: Post-Racial in the Age of Obama fails to Exist

By Pearl K. Ford Dowe, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science

The election of President Barack Obama increased expectations that America would transcend race and that white racial attitudes had undergone a fundamental transformation. Analyses of responses from all racial groups reveal that the presence of the first African American President and First Family has not alleviated racial stereotypes. The data also reveals that each racial group harbors negative evaluations and stereotypes of other groups. Racism is still a significant factor in the day to day experience of African Americans. There appears to be no regional difference among African Americans and Latinos in their experience with racial discrimination.

Race and Policy Preferences

Policies designed to address societal racial inequality are among the most controversial in our contemporary political debates. Much has been written on the limited support among whites for policies created to address racial equality. At the same time, however, there appears to be general support for the principles of equality. To some scholars, the gap between ideology and policy often reveals thinly veiled forms of racism. To others, the response is much more nuanced, suggesting that opposition to specific policies don’t represent racial animosity, but rather opposition to government intrusion into private affairs.

Fortunately, the Blair-Rockefeller asked respondents about the levels of discrimination various racial and ethnic groups experienced (See Table 1). Examination of this data reveals that race still significantly influences the day to day experiences of African Americans across the country. Eighty one percent of Southern African Americans and 80.3% of non-Southern African Americans reported experiencing discrimination in their day to day life. Latino respondents reported less discrimination in their lives compared to African Americans1 . Interestingly a considerable number of whites in both the South (48.1%) and in non-Southern regions (38.6%) expressed that they had experienced discrimination. However, in responses to more specific examples of racial discrimination these percentages decline (See Table 1).

Table 1. Life Experiences due to Race or Ethnic Background
1. Experience day to day discrimination
2. Received Poorer Service
3. Treated as if persons feared you
4. Treated with Less Respect
5. Called Names
6. Physically Attacked/Threatened
7. Racially Profiled by Police

……………………………………. (1)……… (2)…………(3)………..(4) ………..(5) ………(6) ……… (7)

Southern Whites …………48.1% …. 34.5% …..18.8% …..46% …..28.9% …..14.4% …..14.6%
Non-Southern Whites …38.6% …..28% …….15.5% …..36.7% …..22.1% …..14.7% …..10.4%
Southern Blacks …………..81.4% …..69.3% …..58.1% …..76.9% …..37.6% …..19.2% …..43.8%
Non-Southern Blacks …..80.3% …..68.8% …..58.5% …..71.9% …..38.8% …..18.9% …..44.2%
Southern Latinos …………61.9%……44% ………26.1% …..57.2% …..27% …..11.2% …..20.3%
Non-Southern Latino …..66% …….45.5% …..30.3% …..56.1% …..30.4% …….17% …….29%

In your day-to-day life, how often do any of the following things happen to you because of your racial or ethnic background? Would you say often, fairly often, once in a while, or never?
1. You experience discrimination
2. You receive poorer service than other people at restaurants or stores
3. People act as if they are afraid of you
4. You are treated with less respect than other people
5. You are called names or insulted
6. You have been physically threatened or attacked
7You have been unfairly stopped by police

In light of the racialized experiences reported above, it is expected that there is a gap between ideology and policy preference among whites in their support for specific policies designed to address racial issues (See Tables 2 and 3). The majority of Blacks and Latinos express strong concern that race and racial issues remain to be resolved. When asked if they felt that too much, too little or about the right amount attention is being paid to race only 47.2% of Blacks and 40.7% of Latinos felt that ‘too little attention’ was being paid. In comparison, only 14.1% of whites reported that ‘too little attention’ was being paid to race. There is little variation in these percentages when we compare across regions. A majority of Southern Whites (56%) and non-Southern whites (56%) felt too much attention was being paid to race. Only 17.8% of Southern Blacks and 18.5% of non-Southern Blacks agreed that too much attention was being paid to race. There is a similar pattern among Latinos as well with 22.8% of Latinos agreeing that too much attention is given to race and 27.9% of Southern Latinos agreeing that too much attention is given to race.

To read the full survey report, click here.