Americans See Obama Election as Race Relations Milestone

by Frank Newport

High optimism about the future of race relations

PRINCETON, NJ -- Over two-thirds of Americans say Barack Obama's election as president is either the most important advance for blacks in the past 100 years, or among the two or three most important such advances.


There are some differences in responses to this question between those who said they voted for Obama and those who voted for John McCain, but even well over half of McCain voters say the election marked one of the most important advances of the last 100 years for blacks.


Americans have also become more strongly optimistic about the state of race relations in the United States. After Obama's victory in Tuesday's election, 67% of Americans say a solution to relations between blacks and whites will eventually be worked out, the highest value Gallup has measured on this question.


These results are based on questions included in Gallup Poll Daily tracking Wednesday night, Nov. 5. It is to be expected that positivity might be at high ebb the day after the election, when all news is positive and there have yet to be major or controversial-reaction-generating decisions on the part of the new administration.

Having said that, the data show an increased positivity on the basic trend question about the future of race relations, a question Gallup has been asking off and on for over four decades. Only 30% of Americans now say race relations will "always be a problem for the United States," while two-thirds say "a solution will eventually be worked out." The previously most positive point on this measure, it should be noted, came this summer, continuing a more upbeat trend over the last two years.

Further, 7 out of 10 Americans believe that race relations in this country will get at least a little better as a result of Obama's election, including 28% who say they will get a lot better.


Broad Reactions to the Election

More broadly, the survey shows very positive emotional reactions to Obama's election.


Two-thirds of Americans report feeling proud and optimistic after Obama's election, and about 6 in 10 say they are excited. Less than a third report feeling pessimistic or afraid.

There are, predictably, significant differences in reactions to Obama's election between those who voted for Obama and those who voted for McCain.


Over half of McCain's voters say they are afraid and over half say pessimistic after Obama's election, and less than half of these McCain voters say they are excited, proud, or optimistic. Obama voters, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly likely to say they are proud, excited, and optimistic because of the election results.


Obama is clearly enjoying a "honeymoon" period at this point in the immediate afterglow of the election and with generally laudatory, upbeat press coverage. Thus, as these data collected the day after the election show, Americans are perhaps predictably quite positive toward Obama and his coming presidency. The data reviewed also show that Americans believe Obama's election represents a highly significant milestone in the history of race relations in this country.

Soon enough, of course, Obama will have to make hard (and almost certainly controversial) decisions as he begins to face the challenge of running the executive branch in earnest -- and a key test will be to see if these positive emotions on the part of the average American continue.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,036 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 5, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.

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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