CHICAGO - The Mobilization, Change and Political and Civic Engagement Project (MCPCE) explores the impact of the 2008 presidential election, especially its initial and possibly lasting ability to shape the attitudes of individuals toward the government, other racial groups, and on important policy issues such as immigration and same-sex marriage. The MCPCE at the University of Chicago, with Dr. Cathy J. Cohen and Michael Dawson as co-principal investigators, used a combination of methodologies for gathering data, including a national representative panel survey and in-depth interviews with individuals from across the country to secure important information that can help shape the discussion about the 2010 midterm election, the 2012 presidential election and politics in the country more broadly. In this summary we highlight some key findings in regards to racial attitudes, mobilization, political alienation, immigration, and political information consumption.
Amidst all the debate, from declarations that Obama’s victory was a “post-racial triumph,” to later assertions that “Obama won because of race,” basic questions persist: what is the nature of racial attitudes in America today? Have such attitudes changed as a result of the election of our first black president? How do racial attitudes differ on the basis of demographic characteristics such as age and racial group membership?
Race as a Major Problem: Despite hopes that the election of President Barack Obama, would lessen racial tensions, it appears that issues of race are just as salient a year after the election.
· Black respondents are the most likely to say that racism continues to be a major problem while whites are the least likely to hold such an opinion. Asians and Latinos fall in the middle: White 29%, Black 69%, Asian 32%, Latino 51%
· The gaps between beliefs of whites and blacks were most stark on whether they think that Blacks have achieved racial equality in the United States. Those who believe that blacks have achieved racial equality: White 50%, Black 12%, Asian 25%, Latino 22%
· Whites are also the group most likely to believe that Hispanics had achieved racial equality, although less than a majority expressed that view: White 40%, Black 14%, Asian 23%, Latino 21%
· Across race, young people ages 18–35 are less likely to think racism remains a major problem than older respondents. Instead, they are more likely to think that racism exists but is no longer a major problem. The largest age gap in this regard exists among blacks: 74% of older respondents believed that racism is still a major problem, compared to 60% of 18–35-year-olds.
There are reasons to be optimistic about the possibility of racial harmony. When asked whether the problems facing blacks, Latinos, and Asians in the United States are too different for them to be political allies or partners, blacks and whites appeared substantially more optimistic than Latinos and Asians about prospects for interracial alliances.
· 45% of whites and 42% of blacks either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the assertion that the problems of the various racial minority groups are too different to foster alliances compared to 23% of Latinos and Asians American respondents.
Opinions like these are particularly important for understanding the prospects for interracial and intraracial political solidarity and coalition building.
Growth of Minority Populations
Whites are disproportionately likely to think that the growth of minority populations either weakens or does not affect the country: Whites 32%, Black 6%, Asian 6%, Latino 10%.
Comparatively, when asked if minority growth strengthens the country, a slim 18% of whites agreed compared to Blacks at 51%, Asian at 50%, and Latinos at 64%
When examined based on age, the results indicate that 18–35-year-olds were more positive about increasing minority populations; this age effect is most pronounced among Latinos and Asians. One exception is that younger black respondents are substantially more likely to believe that increasing numbers of minorities will weaken the country than their older counterparts.
Whites were most likely to either agree or strongly agree that racial profiling helps to keep our country safe from terrorists (47%), although sizeable numbers of racial minorities also agreed: 30% of Blacks, 34% of Asians and 38% of Latinos. Respondents over the age of 36 across all racial groups were also more like to agree that racial profiling helps keep the country safe. What’s more, by one year after the election, support for racial profiling increased by 9% for whites, 7% for Asians, and 7% for blacks. It appears that backing for racial profiling may be gaining momentum. Given current events, it remains an open question whether tactics such as those employed by the state of Arizona will reverse such momentum by going too far or continue to be imitated by other states.
The data and analysis of this national survey underscores the extent to which racial attitudes will continue to play a role in American social and political life for the foreseeable future. Even during a time when many celebrate the successful ascendance of an African American to the presidency, racial (and often generational) attitudinal gaps endure. Furthermore, as the demographics of the country change, it is less and less possible to ignore the voices of Asians and Latinos. This data open the door for a multifaceted and comprehensive rendering of racial attitudes in the United States.
Voter-mobilization campaigns were extremely active in the lead-up to the 2008 election. Millions of people were contacted by organizations to participate, and hundreds of thousands answered the call to involve themselves in the election in ways beyond just voting. Young people and black and Latinos turned out for the 2008 election in record numbers.
Racial and ethnic groups were mobilized differently in the lead-up to the 2008 election. White respondents were much more likely to report being contacted by political parties, political campaigns or candidates, veteran’s organizations, and organizations promoting the interests of women. The percentage of respondents contacted by these groups and encouraged to vote in the election is:
· Political parties: 34% White, 21% Black, 19% Hispanic, 21% Asian respondents
· Political campaign or candidates: 34% White, 22% Black,16% Hispanic,16% Asian
· Veteran’s organizations: 46% White, 24% Black, 24% Hispanic, 20% Asian
· Groups promoting women’s interests: 59% White, 23% Black, 34% Hispanic, 33% Asian
Black respondents were much more likely to report being contacted by people in their neighborhood, community-based groups, and places of worship in efforts to get them to vote in the election. The percentages are:
· People in their neighborhood: 13% White, 23% Black, 11% Asian, 17% Latino
· Groups working to improve their community: 5% White, 14% Black, 5% Asian, 9% Latino
· Place of worship: 14% White, 24% Black, 7% Asian, 9% Latino
Looking forward, one of the most important results from the above analysis is that the effects of political mobilization don't end once the election season concludes; rather, political mobilization contributes to continued general mobilization. A concern for politics appears to translate into a concern for general community well-being. It is important to note the different sources of mobilization found across various ethnic and racial groups. We must explore whether such disparate forms of mobilization contribute to differing rates of participation.
Trust in Government
Overall, levels of trust of the government to do what is right were significantly higher immediately following the election compared to preelection levels but receded to their preelection levels once the Obama administration had been in power for several months.
This pattern holds across every racial group.
The percentage of black respondents who believe they can trust government to do what is right exhibited the most dramatic increase, increasing by almost threefold. Immediately after the election, black respondents expressed more government trust than white, Latino, and Asian respondents. One year after the election, however, Latino and white respondents expressed similar levels of trust as they did before, and black and Asian respondents expressed lower levels of trust, yet were still more trusting of government than in the initial wave of the survey.
Political leaders attuned to their needs and concerns
Black, Latino and white respondents were all more trusting of political leaders immediately following the election, yet were less so one year after the election. White respondents were more distrustful of political leaders one year after the election than they were before the election, while black respondents’ level of trust declined only marginally during the period immediately following the election and one year later. In contrast, there were only minor changes among Asian respondents over the same time period.