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Has Obama Widened the Racial Divide?

Americans hoped the election of the first black president in 2008 would help heal the racial division that has plagued this country for much of its history, but nearly half of voters think just the opposite has occurred.

Only 20% of Likely U.S. Voters believe President Obama has brought Americans of different races closer together, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Forty-seven percent (47%) think Obama has driven those of different races further apart instead. Twenty-seven percent (27%) say his words and actions have had no major impact either way. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Forty-four percent (44%) of black voters feel the president has brought us closer together, but just 16% of whites and 21% of other minority voters agree. Most whites (54%) believe Obama has driven the races further apart, a view shared by only 21% of blacks and 38% of other minority voters.

Perhaps the most visible manifestation of racial division these days is the growing tension between the police and black Americans, especially those in the inner city. Following the recent murders of police officers in Texas and Illinois, 58% of voters think there is a war on police in America today

Some have criticized the president for his comments about the police following incidents involving white police officers and black suspects. Sixty percent (60%) of voters believe comments critical of the police by some politicians make it more dangerous for police officers to do their jobs.

Only 17% believe most politicians raise racial issues to address real problems.  Seventy percent (70%) think they talk race just to get elected.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on August 31-September 1, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology

This past January, just 17% of all Americans rated race relations in this country as good or excellent, down by half from 34% the year before. Only eight percent (8%) of voters think race relations have gotten better since Obama’s election in 2008, and unlike many questions dealing with race, blacks and whites don’t disagree much on this one. 

Women give Obama more credit than men do for bringing Americans of different races together, but both are equally likely to see him more as a racial divider.

The older the voter, the more likely he or she is to think the president has driven us further apart racially.

Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans and a plurality (46%) of voters not affiliated with either major political party believe the president has caused more racial division. One-in-four Democrats (24%) agree. But 38% of voters in the president’s party think he has brought the races closer together, while nearly as many (34%) say his words and actions have had no impact.

Among voters who think there is now a war on police, 63% blame Obama for driving the races further apart. Among those who say there is no such war, 36% say the president has brought Americans of different races closer together; 19% say further apart, and 39% feel he has had no impact in this area.

Seventy percent (70%) of all voters believe the level of crime in low-income inner city communities is a bigger problem in America today than police discrimination against minorities. Eighty-two percent (82%) of black voters, however, think most black Americans receive unfair treatment from the police. White voters by a 56% to 30% margin don’t believe that’s true. Other minority voters are evenly divided.

Just 19% of black voters think the justice system is fair to blacks and Hispanics, compared to 50% of whites and 44% of other minority voters. 

Fifty-six percent (56%) of all voters rate the U.S. economy as fair to black and Hispanic Americans, including 25% who say it is Very Fair to them. But most blacks think the economy is unfair to them.

Going into Election Day last fall, white voters were nearly twice as likely as blacks to believe America is a more divided nation than it was four years earlier. 

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on August 31-September 1, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

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