Barack Obama ran his successful 2008 presidential campaign based largely on the catchphrases “hope” and “change.” For every person that clung to these words and took them to heart, there was somebody else that would mock them, brushing them off as nothing more than campaign tools to win over the mindless. As cliché as it has become, these slogans continue to be the brunt of jokes in the world of politicos and cable talk shows. But a recent Pew Research Center poll shows that “hope” and “change” may be more than just empty phrases used by the first black president.
The results of the poll show that African-Americans are surprisingly optimistic about progress in the country, even in a time when the unemployment rate for blacks is 15.6 percent, much higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. Yet the Pew poll makes clear that African-Americans are significantly more upbeat than they were just two years ago. In a poll of nearly 3,000 people, when blacks were asked if they are better off than they were five years ago, 39 percent said yes in November of 2009 as opposed to just 20 percent in 2008. When asked if the future will be better for blacks, 53 percent responded yes while just 44 percent responded yes two years earlier.
About 76 percent of blacks also feel that blacks and whites get along either “very well” or “pretty well” compared to 69% in 2007. The poll also shows that a majority of blacks, roughly 53 percent, now believe blacks who fail to get ahead have their own actions to blame rather than discrimination, compared to about 34 percent who said so in 1994. Whether or not that is substantively true, the election of Barack Obama is credited for this large uptick in positive attitudes.
Attitudes of whites are notable as well. While 55 percent say the election has made no difference in improving race relations, 32 percent actually say President Obama’s election has improved race relations. One out of three is a pretty substantial portion of the Caucasian population.
These results do not tell the whole story of course. Aside from the unemployment rate, there is more to consider when examining the current situation. Unfortunately, according to statistics, the standard-of-living gap between blacks and whites hasn’t narrowed. Likewise, African-Americans have suffered the consequences of the recession in the areas of health and education as well.
There is still much to improve by way of standard-of-living for African-American communities across our country. Discrimination still exists and much remains to be done before the United States can truly say racism is no longer an issue. President Obama’s election has, in fact, given (and continues to give) a sense of hope to a lot of people. Attitudes are changing — and that is a big step in the right direction.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus.
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