Is Opposition to Obama Racist?
The latest public opinion polls show that, not only is approval of Barack Obama's job performance declining, larger percentages of the public doubt his honesty. As Thomas Lifson notes, "it is clear that Obama is underwater, and that a public reassessment of him is well underway."
Does that mean racism is staging a comeback?
From the time Obama emerged on the national scene till now, a meme of his backers has been that racism is a -- maybe the (!) -- major reason why people disapprove of him and his policies. Oprah Winfrey's assertion that Obama is disrespected because of race is the most recent illustration of this mindset.
Before dismissing this as hogwash, we need to look at public opinion polls on the matter.
Let us begin with a bit of historical context. White Americans' racial attitudes have changed tremendously since the end of World War II. A Rasmussen Reports poll in late August, 2013 found that nearly 70% of likely voters believe race relations have improved in the U.S. during the last 50 years. The same poll found that nearly 90% believed race relations had deteriorated since Obama became president.
When Obama first emerged as a presidential candidate, many people hoped that, if he were elected, it would signify that the U.S. had entered a "post-racial" epoch. By voting for Obama, many Americans believed they were proving they weren't bigoted. (Obama and his handlers adeptly played on that hope for change.)
Evidently, a portion of the public subscribes to this view. Another Rasmussen Reports poll -- conducted November 19-20, 2013 -- found that 24% of likely voters believe racism is the primary reason why people oppose Obama's policies. (Note: opinions about a president's policies are not the same thing as opinions about her/his job performance, but the two dispositions overlap.) Although three-fifths of likely voters opine that opposition to Obama's policies is because people believe the policies are bad, the fact remains that roughly one-in-four likely voters think racism motivates opposition to Obamaism (i.e., his policies).
When one looks at the poll's "internals," some interesting patterns emerge.
Not surprisingly, whites' and blacks' views are virtually mirror images. Sixty-eight percent of whites told Rasmussen Report's interviewers that opposition to Obama's policies is because the policies were flawed. Seventeen percent of whites attribute opposition to Obama's programs to racism.
Among blacks, the pattern was almost reversed. Only 5% attribute opposition to Obama's policies to their flaws, while 65% say it's due to racism.
One also sees significant differences among Democrats' and Republicans' thinking on this question. Eighty-four percent of Republicans think people oppose Obama's programs because the policies were bad. Only 8% opine that racism is the cause. Only 30% of Democrats, however, say people oppose bad Obama policies, while 46% put it down to racism.
Ideology also plays a part. Eighty-five percent of conservatives claim people opposed Obamaism because his policies are bad, while only 7% think it's because of racism. Among liberals, however, 38% say racism is why people are against Obamaism, while 36% say it's because his programs are flawed.
Other demographic and socioeconomic status factors have relatively little role in how Rasmussen Report's respondents respond to the question.
There are, however, two interesting tidbits worth considering. Women were said to be "in the Obama camp" during the 2012 election. (Exit polls found that 55% of women said they voted for Obama, juxtaposed to 44% of men.) Gender makes little difference, however, in how people respond to Rasmussen Report's query. Women are just four percentage points more likely than men (26% vs. 22% ) to believe racism drives Obama's opponents, and just twelve percentage points (54% vs. 66%) more likely to think the president's opponents believe his policies are flawed.
Finally, since exit polls in 2012 reported that 60% of young people voted for Obama, it is odd that the age cohort most likely to attribute opposition to his policies to racism are those over 65, while the youngest cohort are the least likely to say racism was the primary motivation of the president's programs. (The age-related differences, however, are not large.)
(Patterns of voting are not the same as responses to a poll question.) Still, one finds the gender and age-related data in Rasmussen Report's November, 2013 poll intriguing.
There are, nevertheless, at least two problems with this poll. Actually, there is a third if you discount the poll's premise that "racism" causes negative feelings about Obama.
The first problem - other than the one already mentioned -- is that Rasmussenreports.com's release does not specify which is the most important factor shaping belief that racism breeds negativity toward Obamaism. (It's probably race, but absent good data, that's just a guess.)
A bigger problem is that we can't tell how much racism results in disapproval of Obama's policies. If "racism" results in much lower approval of Obamaism, then it's a significant problem. If, on the other hand, "racism" lowers opinions about Obamaism just a few percentage points, one may rightly wonder what the left-wing brouhaha is all about.
Evidence on this topic is hard to come by, since political correctness inhibits the topics for which good data are available.
Even so, there is at least one empirically-grounded study that sheds useful light on the topic, i.e., how much does racism contribute to negative views of Obama and to the likelihood that an individual would vote for him in 2012. A study by three academics draws on surveys from 2008, 2009-2010, and 2012 to explore "racism's" impact on opinions about Obama's job performance and prospective voting patterns in 2012.
Although not perfect, the paper offers useful information. It shows, for example, that not only does "racism" lower approval of Obama's job performance by just two or three percentage points, race-related sentiment's impact on opinions about his job performance declined between 2010 and 2012.
This study is doubly useful. We are reminded that if "white racism" inhibits approval for Obamaism, support for Obama remains high among blacks. (I do not ascribe blacks' support for Obama just to "reverse racism," because empirical proof is lacking -- again, probably due to political correctness.) Nevertheless, blacks' feelings about Obama and Obamaism remain over-whelmingly positive. The latest Gallup poll, for example (11/18-24/2013) shows that 81% of blacks approve of Obama's job performance, compared to 30% of whites.
Moreover, another Rasmussen Reports poll, conducted in early July of 2013 found 37% of American adults thought most blacks are racist, compared to 15% who believed most whites are racist. That poll also found that a larger percentage of blacks believed most blacks are racist than considered most whites to be racist (31% vs. 24%).
There are two lessons here. First, leftists ascribe what appears to be blacks' knee-jerk approval of Obama to "racial pride," while simultaneously attributing lack of approval among whites to "racism."
Second, the charge that "racism" affects feelings about Obama is a two-edged sword. Do some whites still harbor ill feelings about blacks? Yes. Will some blacks automatically endorse an African-American president's policies? Yes.
The key question is how much of each tendency is happening; the search for an answer continues.