Racial Pessimism in the Early Obama Era
Posted: 23 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 22, 2011
Black pessimism about the prospects for racial equality in the United States rose throughout the 1990s and 2000s. By 2005, 80 percent of African Americans expressed slim to no hope that racial equality would be achieved in the near future, while increasingly large majorities of white respondents reported that blacks either had achieved or would soon achieve racial equality. In 2008, public opinion data from just before the presidential election reveal distinct breaks in both of these long-range patterns, with African Americans, in particular, showing dramatically more optimism about the prospects for achieving black racial equality. However, new panel data, collected in three waves between 2008-2010, show extreme volatility in attitudes across racial groups toward the prospects of blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans achieving racial equality. In this paper, we use data from the Election 2008 and Beyond Survey to model individual-level change in beliefs about the likelihood that non-white groups will achieve racial equality in the U.S. These data (from the Mobilization, Change, and Political and Civic Engagement Project) are nationally representative and feature oversamples of black, Asian, and Latino respondents. We demonstrate different patterns of volatility in racial pessimism across different racial groups, showing that, for example, only white attitudes about the prospects for racial equality have remained stable. In conclusion, we show how the models are consistent with the complicated racial politics of the early Obama era and, at the same time, starkly challenge the notion that the U.S. has become a “post-racial” society.
Keywords: Race and Politics, African-American Politics, Public Opinion, Obama
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