Obama's Candidacy Underscores Crosscurrents of Race and Politics

Racial attitudes among white Americans show little if any net effect on Barack Obama's candidacy for president, an ABC News analysis finds, because negative views toward Obama among the least racially sensitive whites largely are balanced by pro-Obama sentiment among those with the highest racial sensitivities.

Three in 10 whites express less racially sensitive views, such as having some feelings of prejudice or believing that blacks in their communities do not experience discrimination; they hold generally critical views of Obama and favor John McCain for president by a 26-point margin. But an additional two in 10 whites are at the high end of racial sensitivity -- and they favor Obama by 19 points.

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The middle ground, half of white Americans, favors McCain by 18 points. All told, he leads among whites by 12 points -- almost exactly the average for Republican presidential candidates in the last eight elections.

HOPES – More broadly, this ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that while the milestone established by Obama's candidacy hasn't changed basic views of race relations, it's inspired hopes for improvement among blacks, as well as more positive responses than negative ones among whites overall.

Only about half of all Americans, 51 percent, say race relations in this country are good, unchanged from an ABC/Post poll five years ago. But just over four in 10 think Obama's candidacy will improve race relations, nearly three times as many as think it'll hurt.

Those hopes peak among blacks: Sixty percent think Obama's candidacy will help race relations, while just 8 percent see it hurting. Far fewer whites, 38 percent, think Obama's candidacy will help, but still that's twice as many as think it'll do damage.

CURRENTS – Beyond these views are deep crosscurrents in racial attitudes. On the positive side, a record number of whites and blacks alike say they have a friend of the other race – 92 percent of blacks and 79 percent of whites, both new highs in polls dating back a generation. The growth of interracial friendships has been dramatic; in 1981 just 54 percent of whites, and 69 percent of blacks, reported a friend of the other race.

At the same time, three in 10 Americans admit to harboring at least some feelings of racial prejudice of their own – 30 percent of whites, and about as many blacks, 34 percent. And nearly half of whites (48 percent) and more than half of blacks (54 percent) say blacks in their own community experience racial discrimination.

IMPACT – As noted, an index based on these views finds that a significant group of white Americans – three in 10 – can be described as less-sensitive toward racial issues. These are whites who don't have a black friend, and/or don't think blacks in their community experience discrimination, and/or have feelings of prejudice (at least two of the three).

There's a political impact: Whites in this group are much less likely than others to view Obama favorably, more favorably disposed to McCain on issues and personal attributes and less apt to say they'd vote for Obama if the election were today. These less racially sensitive whites favor McCain by a wide 58-32 percent margin – nearly 2-1.

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