Obama and Race: Bridging the Divide?

Adding to the high expectations for Barack Obama across a range of issues, nearly six in 10 Americans think his presidency will improve race relations in this country, a view that's grown substantially given his election as the 44th president.

Fifty-eight percent in this ABC News poll think Obama's presidency will help improve relations among racial groups -- sharply higher than the 42 percent who said the same of his candidacy last summer.

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African-Americans, moreover, now say by a 12-point margin that they think of themselves as Americans first rather than as blacks first -- a slight shift from a September poll in which they divided evenly on that question.

Obama's inauguration as the first African-American president will be laden with symbolism. He'll be sworn in the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on the same Bible on which Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office March 4, 1861.

IMPROVE -- The sense that Obama will improve race relations has grown equally among whites and blacks alike, although it remains higher overall among blacks. Republicans remain more skeptical than others -- but also show the biggest increase in this view, a very large 25-point jump compared with last June's level.

Similarly, two-thirds of Americans -- including blacks and whites equally -- say Obama's election represents progress for all blacks in America, not just a single case of individual accomplishment. This view, however, has ebbed slightly since September, particularly so among African-Americans. Then 79 percent saw Obama's nomination as a sign of progress for blacks more generally; today 64 percent see his election that way.

Obama Presidency: Influence on Race Relations

PRIDE and IDENTITY -- A majority of blacks, 55 percent, say Obama's election makes them "more proud" to be American. Fewer whites but still one in three (32 percent) say the same. And in a related result, a bare majority of blacks, 51 percent, now say they think of themselves first as Americans -- a slight increase from 46 percent in September.

Then, blacks divided evenly, 46-45 percent, on whether their nationality or their race defined them more; now more pick their nationality, by 51-39 percent. (Older blacks, age 50 and up, call themselves Americans first by a 2-1 margin. Those under 50 split.)

As well as among blacks, pride related to Obama's election peaks among Democrats, at 57 percent, compared with 30 percent of independents and 20 percent of Republicans. It's also 19 points higher among those who see his election as progress for all blacks.

Challenges, in any case, remain: About a third of Americans, including whites and blacks alike, say they have at least some feelings of racial prejudice. (That's about the norm in previous polls, back up after dropping just before the election.) Far fewer, though, say those are strong prejudices -- 5 percent overall.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 19, 2008 – Jan. 4, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,146 adults, including an oversample of African Americans, for a total of 236 black respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3-point error margin; for blacks, 6.5 points; and for whites, 3.5 points; click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Social Science Research Solutions at ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.