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Americans Disagree With Obama On The State Of Race Relations

In an interview with NPR published Monday, President Obama said race relations have improved during his presidency. A look at polling data shows that the public disagrees — particularly after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. Americans’ assessments of race relations are worse than at any point since the 1990s.

For more than a decade, polling had found that a majority of Americans thought race relations were “generally good.” Optimism spiked with Obama’s election. But pessimism has grown after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island. In a CBS News survey conducted this month, 45 percent of respondents said race relations are “generally good” in the United States. That compares to 43 percent who said race relations are “generally bad.”


In the first poll taken after Obama took office, 66 percent of Americans judged race relations as good — an all-time high, according to CBS News. Only 22 percent of Americans thought relations were bad (an all-time low).

Since then, African-Americans in particular have changed their assessment. In April 2009, 61 percent of African-Americans thought race relations were good. That percentage has dropped 27 percentage points, to just 34 percent. Among whites, the fall has been 18 percentage points, from 65 percent to 47 percent.

Indeed, non-whites are beginning to see race relations as a major problem. In a Gallup poll this month, 22 percent of non-whites said racism or race relations were the most important problem facing the United States. Only 9 percent of whites felt that way. In April 2009, the percentage of whites and non-whites who said racism or race relations was the most important problem was less than 1 percent.

The percentage of Americans who say race relations are the most important problem in America is at its highest point since after the Rodney King verdict in 1992.


Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.