Blacks' Political Engagement Spikes, Though Racial Divisions Remain Deep

Similarly, Obama leads McCain by nearly 2-1 among whites who support race-based affirmative action; McCain leads by nearly 3-1 among whites who oppose it.

Seventy percent of blacks say there's such a thing as a "black experience." Among them, 89 percent say Obama's in touch with it. Seventy-one percent of blacks say Obama's mainly addressing concerns of special interest to blacks; just 16 percent say he's avoiding them. And few blacks – just 12 percent – think Obama is playing to whites when he urges that blacks take greater responsibility for their actions.

Most Americans across the board reject the notion that if Obama were elected blacks would gain too much influence in government: Just five percent of blacks, 10 percent of whites and 13 percent of Hispanic say so.

Great Expectations for Obama

Some blacks are keeping their expectations muted; while nine in 10 support Obama, fewer, albeit a still-high 72 percent, expect him to win.

Just 13 percent of blacks expect McCain to win.

Asked why, the most prevalent answer by far is racism or an unwillingness among whites to vote for Obama, volunteered by 40 percent in this group. Still, that means that overall just 5 percent of blacks expect McCain to win and racism to be the reason. (Whites and Hispanics who expect McCain to win attribute that more to his experience than to any other cause; very few cite racism.)

The view that Obama's candidacy will change blacks' self-image peaks among his supporters, but remains prevalent among others.

Seventy-four percent of Obama supporters think his candidacy will cause a change for the better in the way blacks think about themselves; this declines to 49 percent of McCain supporters. Even among blacks who think McCain will win, a still-majority 54 percent think Obama's candidacy will change blacks' self-image for the better.

Poll: Blacks Put Economic Security Atop Priority List

There are great differences by race in local issues and national political priorities alike.

A vast 71 percent of blacks identify a lack of jobs and other economic opportunities as a serious problem in their own community; just 37 percent of whites report the same concern.

Fifty-five percent of blacks say their community suffers from poor schools; among whites, it's just 25 percent. On these, most blacks and whites alike say they blame not individuals, but conditions in society more broadly.

There are other issue differences, some seen as individual in cause, others social. Forty-two percent of blacks call crime a serious problem in their community, and nearly as many Hispanics agree, while this drops sharply to 19 percent among whites.

Blacks and Hispanics alike also are at least twice as likely as whites to identify domestic violence, teen pregnancy and lack of volunteerism as serious community problems, and also more apt to report serious problems with the prevalence of unwed mothers and an absence of high moral and ethical standards.

Blacks are particularly attuned to another issue, the treatment of African-Americans in the criminal justice system: Sixty-eight percent call it a serious problem in their community, essentially matching lack of economic opportunity as the No. 1 local concern. Concern about this issue drops sharply to a third of Hispanics and just 17 percent among whites.

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