Monday, May 4, 2009

Deep Faith

By Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Assistant professor in the Department History with a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute

A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll found that two-thirds of Americans say that race relations are generally good, up significantly from slightly more than half in July 2008. (note 1) Most notably, the percentage of African Americans who say that race relations are good has doubled during the same period, from 29 percent to 59 percent, reaching a historic high. The presence of Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House is clearly the source of this newfound optimism.

According to the Times/CBS poll, Barack Obama’s approval rating among African Americans is a statistically unheard of 96 percent, while the percentage of African Americans who disapprove of his performance is 0. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s approval rating is 88 percent, falling 8 percentage points below her husband because 12 percent of the respondents were either undecided or did not have enough information to make a reasonable judgment. But like her husband, the percentage of African Americans who disapprove of her performance is 0. These are the highest favorable ratings accorded any president and first lady by African Americans.

There is a direct correlation between the Obamas’ high rating among African Americans and the rise in the percentage of African Americans who say that race relations are generally good. The Obamas’ favorable ratings not only reflect a lingering euphoria over his election and a genuine satisfaction with his and the First Lady’s first 100 days in the White House, but also the widely held view among African Americans that the spotlight shining brightly on the Obamas will reflect positively on African Americans as a whole, prompting white Americans to abandon long held prejudicial beliefs and behaviors. When asked in the same poll if, in the next four years, Barack Obama’s presidency will bring together or divide different groups of Americans, 94 percent of African Americans said that it would bring people together and only 3 percent said that it would drive people apart. At the same time, however, 55 percent of white Americans said that Obama’s presidency would bring different groups together, while 31 percent said that it would not.

The difference between the two groups is telling, pointing to the very real possibility that African Americans are overestimating the power of the Obamas’ presence and effectiveness in the White House to improve race relations. Only time will tell if they are right or wrong. At the very least, though, these poll numbers for African Americans demonstrate the deep faith that black people have in the Obamas, a faith that transformed a presidential campaign into a social movement and seeks to transform a presidency into the salvation of the nation.

1 For complete poll results see:


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Hasan. I didn't know about these poll numbers and they're fascinating.

  2. I agree that these polls show the deep faith which Blacks have regarding the Obamas. But, hasn't it always been this way? Black people historically believe that life will improve, if not for themselves, for some other Black. Thank you for your insight.