A new poll conducted by Associated Press (AP) released Saturday finds that 51% of Americans harbor prejudice against blacks, and many have the same feelings about Hispanics. The pollsters also believe that prejudice is costing President Obama at least 5% of the vote. So who is surprised?
The poll showed that 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48% in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56%, up from 49% during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
“As much as we’d hope the impact of race would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago,” said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the survey.
Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an earlier AP survey in 2011, 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57% in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.
The AP surveys were conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago.
Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism. In the poll 79% of Republicans compared with 32% of Democrats expressed racism in explicit questions. The implicit test found less difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 49% of independents.
In 2008 when the nation elected its first African-American president, many thought that the days of racism were behind us. They thought the country turned away from its racially charged past of slavery and Jim Crow. This was short lived because there was a backlash as many whites resented seeing a black man occupying the White House. The AP poll just puts a number on it.
Experts on race said they were not surprised by the findings. Jelani Cobb, professor of history and director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut told AP “We have this false idea that there is uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the way history has worked. When we’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.”
In major cities when an African-American was elected mayor, he or she usually received 20% of the white vote in their first election, but the percent of whites (who did not flee the city) that voted for that mayor went up the second time. That has not happened with President Obama. There are reasons why.
First of all, just as Nixon exploited white backlash over the civil rights movement with his “Southern strategy,” Republicans are exploiting existing racism and backlash to gin up opposition to President Obama. They began with challenging his right to even be president by accusing him of being born in Kenya. To this day despite the release of his birth certificate, Republicans including a “joking” Mitt Romney continue to make veiled references to his citizenship. Nearly 40% of Republicans believe Obama was born in Kenya.
Secondly, they have reinforced the false notion that because his middle name is Hussein, he is a Muslim. Nearly half of Republicans still believe the president is a Muslim, not a Christian.
Tea Party activists, financed by lobbyists and special interests and encouraged by the Republican Party, use posters depicting President Obama as Hitler, as an ape, and worse. These circulate through e-mail, social media, and on Fox News. These explicitly racist symbols reinforce the race hatred that existed in 2008, and make it worse. They inflame backlash against Obama who they defined as—a foreign-born Muslim who has no legal right to be president, and who taking the job away from a legitimate Christian (and white) American.
The presidential race is a virtual tie. It may come down to recounts and contested ballots in just a few counties, and may ultimately be decided, not by voters, but by Congress or the Supreme Court. It is tragic that in 2012 we are even talking about race, or needing to poll on it. The poll confirms what we all know—we are still a racially divided country.
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