Poll: Hopes are high for race relations

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's election has inspired a wave of optimism about the future of race relations in the United States, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken the day after the first African American won the White House.

Confidence that the nation will resolve its racial problems rose to a historic level. Two-thirds of Americans predict that relations between blacks and whites "will eventually be worked out" in the United States, by far the highest number since Gallup first asked the question in the midst of the civil rights struggle in 1963.

Optimism jumped most among blacks. Five months ago, half of African Americans predicted the nation eventually would solve its racial problems. Now, two-thirds do.

"Barack didn't elect himself; we Americans elected him," says Roger Wilkins, a civil rights leader and professor of history and American culture at George Mason University in suburban Virginia. "And I think that there are lots and lots of people who say, 'Damn, we're not as racist as we thought we were,' so they're pleased."

Two-thirds of Americans — significantly more than the 53% who voted for the Democratic candidate on Tuesday — say they feel "proud" and "optimistic" after his victory. Six in 10 are "excited."

Those who describe themselves as proud include 50% of conservatives, 38% of Republicans and 32% of those who voted for Republican John McCain.

There were negative reactions to Obama's election as well. Three in 10 describe themselves as "pessimistic," and 27% say they are "afraid."

The poll of 1,036 adults, taken Wednesday, has a margin of error of +/—3 percentage points.

Those surveyed see Obama's election as a seminal moment in African-American history. One in three calls it the most important advance for blacks in the past 100 years. Another 38% describe it as one of the two or three most important advances.

Just one in 10 says it's "not that important."

As a result of his election, 28% say race relations in the country will get a lot better; 42% say they will get a little better.

Obama on Thursday received his first top-level security briefing — the same daily briefing President Bush gets — as he moved to organize the new administration. He named Chicago congressman Rahm Emanuel, a former aide to President Clinton, as his chief of staff.

The president-elect will meet with Bush on Monday in the Oval Office for their first substantive talks about the financial crisis, the war in Iraq and the transition. First lady Laura Bush will give Michelle Obama a tour of the White House quarters.

"We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in," Bush told hundreds of White House employees. He promised a seamless transfer of authority, urging his staff to help ensure the Obama team "hits the ground running."