Barack Obama's success this election season has hinged in part on his ability to appeal to voters across ethnic backgrounds. But a new survey [PDF] from the New York Times and CBS News demonstrates that race remains a salient division in the American electorate.
The poll showed dramatically different views on the state of race relations among blacks, whites and Hispanics. Majorities of white and Hispanic respondents told NYT/CBS pollsters that race relations in the U.S. are generally good, while 59 percent of blacks characterized them as generally bad. A majority of whites and half of Hispanics maintained that people of all races have an equal chance of getting ahead, but 64 percent of blacks said white people have an advantage. And about one-quarter of whites said that, in recent years, the problems facing blacks have been exaggerated, while nearly half of blacks said not enough has been made of the difficulties they face.
Still, large majorities of both white and black voters said the U.S. is ready to elect a black president and that they would personally have no problem voting for a black candidate. But black respondents expressed much more enthusiasm about Obama than white voters. Eighty-three percent of black registered voters said they had a favorable opinion of the Illinois senator, compared with 31 percent of white voters -- a disparity no doubt exaggerated by the greater percentage of Republicans among the pool of white voters than among the sample of black voters.
Half of black voters said an Obama victory would improve race relations in the U.S., and 76 percent of black Obama supporters who are registered to vote said it is either very or extremely important to them that Obama wins.
Black voters have a decidedly negative impression of John McCain; just 5 percent said that they have a favorable opinion of the Arizona senator, compared with 35 percent of white voters. Nearly four in 10 worried that, if McCain is elected, he will promote policies that favor whites over blacks, a concern that just 12 percent of whites shared. And an overwhelming majority of black voters -- 81 percent-- said a McCain administration would favor rich over poor; only half of white respondents agreed.
Hispanics will likely prove an important swing group in November, particularly in several states that remain up for grabs in recent polling. Despite speculation that it would be difficult for Obama to win over this bloc of voters, he currently holds a 39 percentage point advantage over McCain with registered Latino voters. His edge on the issue of illegal immigration could be a key to that success; one-quarter of Hispanic voters professed to have a lot of confidence in Obama's ability to handle illegal immigration, and another 47 percent expressed some level of confidence.
Triple Dose Of Disapproval
As the old saying goes, bad things come in threes. Approval ratings of President Bush, Congress and the overall state of the country have plummeted to record lows in a new Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll [PDF]. Only 16 percent of respondents said the country is headed in the right direction, a number that has plunged more than 10 points since the beginning of the year and 8 points since April.
Americans are apparently pointing their fingers at Bush and Congress for the discouraging state of the country. Just under 30 percent of respondents said they approve of Bush's performance, while nearly 7 in 10 said they didn't. Among that 67 percent, roughly two-thirds said they strongly disapprove. On top of that, the percentage of people who said they strongly approve of Bush has sunk below 10 percent for the first time ever in the survey.
According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll [PDF], Bush has joined the likes of Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Harry Truman for worst presidential approval ratings. His rating in that poll matches Carter's low of 28 percent and hovers above the record lows of Nixon and Truman by just a few points.
Bush's ratings, as low as they are, are still a full 10 points ahead of Congress'. Not even two in 10 respondents of the AP poll voiced support for Congress. More than three-quarters disapprove of the Washington lawmakers, and a whopping 35 percent indicated strong disapproval.
No Record To Brag About
Bush's news conference on Tuesday was intended to ease the country's worries over the economy, but its audience could hardly have been more pessimistic. A record-high 78 percent of respondents in another new ABC News poll [PDF] said the economy is getting worse, the highest since the survey started more than 25 years ago. Those who think the economy is getting better are few and far between -- a scant 2 percent said so, the lowest total since the summer of 2007. Public optimism has been languishing below 5 percent for most of 2008.