Politics

Blacks, Young Adults Sense Security Risks for Obama

by Lydia Saad

Majorities of each say he is at greater risk than other candidates

PRINCETON, NJ -- Safety is always a paramount concern for presidents and those who seek the office of president. In the 2008 general-election campaign, 57% of black Americans believe Barack Obama faces even greater security risks than other candidates who have run for president in recent years. The majority of whites think he is at no greater risk of being harmed.

These apprehensions aside, only 16% of blacks and 7% of whites say they are "very worried" about Obama's safety.

Among those who are very worried, 15% of blacks and about half of whites (which translates to a miniscule 2% of blacks and 3% of whites overall) say they are so worried that, given the chance early on in the campaign to advise Obama, they would have urged him not to run because of it. Most, however, say they would have advised Obama not to let these concerns stand in his way.

Generational Differences

Older Americans may clearly remember the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Kennedy assassinations of the 1960s. However, it is young Americans -- the age group giving the greatest support to Obama's candidacy -- who are most likely to believe he is at greater security risk than other candidates.

The slight majority of young adults (53%) say Obama is at greater risk, compared with 39% of those 30 and older. (There is no difference between the views of middle-aged and older Americans.)

Among blacks, there is no generational divide in perceptions of Obama's safety between those 18 to 49 and those 50 and older. Close to 6 in 10 in both groups (58% and 57%, respectively) think he is at greater risk.

Why the Risk?

Obama himself has said, "I face the same security issues as anybody." Yet in May 2007, the Secret Service announced Obama was being placed under its protection at the campaign's request, nearly a year before other recent candidates have received this level of security, and the earliest for any presidential candidate.

Is it Obama's race or the striking similarities to Robert F. Kennedy in his charisma and the highly charged crowds of supporters he attracts that bring on these concerns?

Forty-two percent of blacks and 25% of whites identify Obama's race as the primary reason they believe he is in greater jeopardy than the norm. Only 6% of blacks and 5% of whites point to his charisma and large following as the principal reason they believe he is a greater target, while 6% and 4%, respectively, say both reasons are equally important.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 30-June 1, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Results for the sample of 780 non-Hispanic whites, aged 18 and older, are based on telephone interviews drawn from the national sample poll. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Results for blacks are based on telephone interviews with 250 blacks, aged 18 and older, conducted May 30-June 2, 2008, some of which were drawn from Gallup's May 30-June 1 national sample and some of which were drawn from a special black oversample conducted May 30-June 2. The combined sample of blacks is weighted to be representative of U.S. blacks. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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