PRINCETON, NJ -- By 35% to 23%, more Americans believe U.S. race relations have gotten better rather than worse with Barack Obama's election as president. However, this positive tilt is not as strong as what Gallup found in October 2009, when 41% said relations had improved and 22% said they had gotten worse. Currently, the plurality of Americans, 41%, say race relations have not changed as a result of Obama's presidency.
Just a day after Obama's election as the nation's first black president in November 2008, Gallup found the vast majority of Americans, 70%, predicting that race relations would get better as a result of his presidency. Prior to his election, in June-July 2008, 56% of Americans said race relations would get better if Obama were elected. This included 65% of blacks and 54% of whites. Currently, 48% of blacks and 31% of whites say race relations have gotten better under Obama.
Gallup finds even wider differences by party ID, with 46% of Democrats perceiving improvement in race relations, compared with 19% of Republicans. Young adults are a bit more upbeat than those 55 and older about the recent progress made on race relations.
Despite the decline since 2008 and 2009 in the percentage who view Obama's election as having improved race relations, Americans as a whole are still optimistic that race relations will get better in the years ahead as a result of Obama's presidency. Fifty-two percent hold this view, while 35% predict no change and 11% say race relations will get worse.
The poll also finds a decline in perceptions of Obama's election as one of the most important advances for U.S. blacks in the last 100 years: 42% say this today, fewer than the 58% who said so in 2009, and the 71% right after his election.
The decline is evident largely among whites, dropping nearly 20 percentage points from 56% in 2009 to 37% today, compared with a 6-point decline among blacks, 71% to 65%.
On balance, Americans, and particularly blacks and Democrats, are more likely to believe the election of the nation's first black president has resulted in improved race relations rather than poorer relations. However, the current 12-point national edge for optimists on this score is not as upbeat as Gallup found in Obama's first year as president, and is a long way from the widespread optimism Americans expressed immediately after his election.