By George E. Curry, NNPA Editor-in-Chief
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Slightly more than half of all Americans – 51 percent – express anti-Black attitudes, an increase of 3 percent over the past four years, making it more difficult for President Barack Obama to win next Tuesday’s popular vote, according to a poll conducted for the Associated Press.
The results, which were released over the weekend, showed an even greater increase in racism when implicit racist attitudes were measured. In those findings, the number of Americans with anti-Black sentiments increased from 49 percent when Obama was first elected in 2008 to 56 percent today.
“The last Democrat in the White House said we had to have a national discussion about race,” Frederick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, told the Associated Press. “There’s been total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you can see, you still have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate these deep feelings.”
Even though anti-Black attitudes may hurt Obama in the popular vote, he is still favored to win the Electoral College and return to the White House.
The survey of anti-Black attitudes was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 11. In a similar survey conducted last year, 52 percent of non-Hispanic Whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes, according to AP. That figure increased by 5 percent when the implicit test of anti-Hispanic views was administered.
The survey was conducted for the AP by GfK Custom Research in cooperation with researchers at Stanford University, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan. It had a sampling error of approximately plus or minus 4 percentage points.
“The poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans,” the Associated Press stated. “Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent.”
In gauging explicit racism, researchers measured how people responded to such words as “friendly,” “hardworking,” “violent” and “lazy” when applied to different groups. To measure implicit racism, researchers used various photos to assess deeper feelings. The survey was conducted online because respondents tend to be more honest on line than in face-to-face sessions with interviewers.
“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 worked,” Jelani Cobb, director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut, told the Associated Press. “We’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.”
That backlash has been on display on bumper stickers, in the president being portrayed as an ape or monkey and references to watermelon rolls rather than Easter egg rolls at the White House.
During the Republican national convention in Tampa, two alternate delegates were ejected from the convention after they tossed peanuts at a Black CNN camerawoman and said, “This is how we feed animals.”
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, has made a series of race-tinged comments. He said Obama needs to “learn how to be an American,” characterized the president as “lazy” and said former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama because of the president’s race, not his policies.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted after the third debate between Obama and Romney: “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” She used the word again the following day, saying if Obama is the smartest guy in the room, “it must be one retarded room.”
After groups representing the mentally challenged objected to her use of the term, Coulter said she would not be bullied by the “language police.” While many justifiably criticized the commentator for using the offensive term, most commentators seemed less concerned that she had used the R-word to describe the president of the United States, who happens to be a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School.
In an interview Friday on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” Coulter denied the term retarded is offensive. She said in the interview, “It’s offensive to whom? Moron, idiot, cretin, imbecile, these were exactly like retard, once technical terms to describe people with mental disabilities. Changing the word doesn’t change the definition. I was not referring to someone with down syndrome. I was referring to the president of the United States.”
And that’s precisely the point.
Donald Trump revived the birther movement by falsely asserting that President Obama was not born in the U.S., despite a long-form birth certificate showing that he was born in Hawaii after it had been admitted as a state. More recently, Trump offered to donate $5 million to Obama’s favorite charity if he would release his college records and passport applications before Tuesday’s election.
At this point four years ago, Obama trailed Republican presidential nominee John McCain by seven percentage points among White voters. According to a Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll released last week, Obama trails Romney by 23 percentage points. Among White voters, the former Massachusetts governor leads the president 60 percent to 37 percent.
Romney holds that lead over Obama even though 48 percent of White voters interviewed said as president, Romney would do more to help the wealthy than the middle class. By comparison, most White voters said Obama would favor the middle class over the wealthy.
“There is no way to tell from these findings what role, if any, racial prejudice may play on either side of the racial gap,” the Washington Post observed. “But the data suggest that concern about the economy is amplifying the division, as Obama’s decline in support among white voters appears to be closely linked to views of his handling of the economy. And yet minorities have suffered unemployment and housing foreclosures in the current economy as well.”
In recent years, Democratic presidential candidates have not done well among White voters. With 43 percent of the White vote in 2008, Obama did better than John Kerry in 2004 and tied Bill Clinton who won 43 percent of the White vote in 1996. Among Democrats seeking the presidency, Obama and Clinton won the largest share of White voters in 20 years.
But with Obama winning 80 percent of the Black and Brown vote, he – like Bill Clinton – doesn’t need a majority of the White vote in order to win the White House. And the good news for Obama is that he is performing better among Whites in key battleground states. In Ohio, for example, a Time magazine poll found Obama trailing Romney by only six percentage points among White voters.
David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said with the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, this is the last election in which Republicans can be competitive nationally by appealing strictly to White voters.
He told the Washington Post, “The formula they have right now is a long-term loser.”
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