With a personally popular African-American candidate leading in the presidential race, our ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll finds a significant drop in the number of likely voters who report feelings of racial prejudice.
In mid-June, asked to “honestly assess yourself,” 32 percent of likely voters said they had at least some feelings of racial prejudice, including roughly equal number of blacks and whites alike, and much like a similar result in 1999. But now it’s down to 15 percent.
Explaining the change is difficult because the results show no real differentiation. Self-reported feelings of prejudice are down across the board, among blacks and whites, among Obama and McCain supporters, and across other groups – partisan, ideological, age, education and locale (urban, suburban or rural) among them.
In June, for instance, 32 percent of whites reported some feelings of racial prejudice, as did 35 percent of blacks. Now it’s 15 percent among whites, 21 percent among blacks. Among Obama supporters self-reported feelings of prejudice have gone from 33 percent to 16 percent; among McCain’s, from 31 percent to 13 percent. It's down among high- and low-income and high- and low-education whites alike. And in both polls whites who reported no prejudice have had essentially the same vote preference as whites overall.
While any influence of Obama’s candidacy is speculative, he is broadly popular: In a tracking result last week, 64 percent of likely voters expressed an overall favorable opinion of him. That was the same in June. But then Obama and McCain were running evenly, and much has transpired since, from the debates to the deterioration of the economy, both advantages for Obama.
One possibility for the change is a context effect; the question in June was asked after four others on the subject of race relations and discrimination; the question in 1999 was asked after a single question on racial discrimination. With no such lead-in in the tracking poll, it could simply be that respondents had given less thought to the issue. Any way you cut it, it's an interesting result, if also an inconclusive one.