Race relations at Obama-era low

July 16, 2013, 9:31 AM GMT+0

Race relations in the US have worsened in the past two years, with more people saying that race relations are generally 'bad' than 'good'

Americans’ perceptions of race relations combine historical memories with perceptions of the way things are now. In the latest YouGov Poll, conducted as the George Zimmerman trial ended, but before Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, race relations aren‘t good. Both white and black Americans are more likely to say race relations are bad today than to think they are good.

These results are very different from those found in Economist/YouGov Polls taken in 2009 and 2011. In the wake of the election of the country’s first African-American President, both whites and blacks saw race relations as good (though whites were generally more positive). In 2011, twice as many overall said race relations were good than thought the opposite. Now, the balance has shifted.

Whether it was the media coverage of the Zimmerman trial, or the June Supreme Court decisions limiting affirmative action and overturning part of the Voting Rights Act, race relations have been in the news lately. And much of the coverage has been negative. About half the public followed the Zimmerman trial closely, and African-Americans were more than twice as likely as whites to say they had been following it very closely. There was a racial divide in perceptions of the coverage: two out of three whites believed the media had paid too much attention to the trial. Blacks were more likely to think there had been the right amount of coverage.

One thing blacks and whites do agree on is that race relations, although not good, are better than they were in the 1960’s at the height of the civil rights movement. Though America’s answers today are not as positive as they were two years ago, more than six in ten think things are better today than they were in the 1960’s.

There has always been far less consensus that the Obama Presidency has improved race relations. Even in the first year of his Presidency, twice as many believed race relations had gotten worse since Barack Obama took the oath of office than thought race relations had gotten better. And the percentage saying things have gotten worse has only increased since then. In the latest poll, 46% of whites and 27% of blacks think race relations have gotten worse since 2009.