econscius

What Obama’s Gallup Rating Shows About Racism

In Gallup Polls, Obama Administration, Political Rhetoric, Racism on August 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Gallup Portrait.jpg

Many Democrats attribute the continuing gradual slide in the President’s approval ratings to racism. [1] [2] [3]

Several points counter the claim: 

(1) In Gallup’s first poll of Obama’s Presidency, Obama had 69% overall approval with 43% approval from Republicans. Republican disapproval of Obama started at just 30%.

For comparison, 41% of Republicans disapproved of the job Clinton was doing in early 1993 and, “in early February 2001, 46% of Democrats disapproved of the job George W. Bush was doing as president.” [4]  Barely half the people of the opposition party tend to grant a “honeymoon” to a president of the other party.  It is the natural order of politics in the USA for any President, of any party, to be disapproved by partisans of the other party.

Consider the implications of that first Gallup poll: President Obama started with 70% approval/no opinion amongst Republicans!

The white Bill Clinton started with a much higher DISAPPROVAL rating amongst Republicans than Barrack Obama did.  GOP approval of Mr. Obama is very low now (11% on 8/27/11 [5]), yet that reflects perceptions of Obama’s performance and policies subsequent to the start of his presidency. 

To those of you who believe it is “racism” that caused President Obama’s subsequent drop in the polls, I ask if you posit racist Republicans would register Obama approval in a poll back in 2009?  Presumably not. Do you think racist Republicans would register a neutral opinion of a black President in a poll back in 2009? Presumably not.  It does not follow, either, that the 30% of Republicans who started off disapproving Mr. Obama were “racist” since a higher proportion actually opposed the white Mr. Clinton right off the bat and more Democrats started off with disapproval of President George W. Bush. 

Some have argued code words are being used to “remind” white voters President Obama is black [2] but that claim makes little sense.  Surely every voter was aware of Mr. Obama’s race in 2008.  The Rev. Jeremiah Wright episode also brought the issue of racial identity to the fore back in 2008.  There was massive press attention to the fact Mr. Obama would be the first black American President.  I find it highly unlikely there are many white voters who were comfortable voting for a black Mr. Obama in 2008 who would now have changed their view in a racist direction on account of “coded language”.  A much more plausible explanation is the public has grown weary of the unemployment rate and continuing housing slump and holds the President at least partly responsible.

(2) Yahoo! News Contributor Michael Thompson recently wrote, “Amid all the euphoria that came forth with Obama’s election and inauguration, the reality remained that he had claimed only 43 percent of the white vote, with shares down in the teens in some Southern states.”

Mr. Thompson’s point actually argues against white racism in the 2008 election.  Mr. Obama’s 43% of the white vote was slightly greater than either John Kerry (41%) or Al Gore (42%).  In fact, no Democratic Presidential nominee has won the white vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. [6]  For reasons economic and cultural (e.g. foreign policy, guns, religion), whites have voted Republican for President over white Democrats for decades.

(3) This is not to say there are no racists out there nor that some people are not impacted, at least in some way, psychological issues about race.  Clearly (and fortunately!), very few people now run around in bed sheets burning crosses.  Surely, there are at least a handful of old-fashioned, unreformed racial bigots who voted in 2008 and it is safe to assume they did not vote for the black man.  But, that does not make McCain or the Republican Party in any way “racist”.  If the GOP were to nominate Presidential contender Herman Cain in 2012, surely the Klansmen will find not vote for the black Mr. Cain, either.

I would caution Democrats from jumping to conclusions about why people do not support Mr. Obama.  The Gallup data show more whites supported Mr. Obama in 2008 than had supported Messrs. Kerry and Gore.  More Republicans gave Mr. Obama approval in early Gallup polls than did for Mr. Clinton.  Very few people are today overtly racist.  We do not know why other people vote the way they do.  True racism is downright appalling.  You will notice I rarely write of race because I like to think of people as individuals not as members of ethnic and racial groups. 

This is a nation of 310 million people and you can always find a few who hold crazy ideas (not only racism, by the way, but belief in Roswell aliens, JFK conspiracies and so forth).  You will find some offensive signs at rallies.  But that does not mean a significant portion of the people who register disapproval of President Obama are motivated by racism.  Racism is a very serious charge and not something that should be carelessly bandied about.  You cannot plausibly argue that, say, a distaste for Cash For Clunkers is “racist”. 

Obama meets with Bush in the Oval Office. Both sit at a distance in front of the presidential desk with their legs crossed and their backs on an angle toward the camera. They sit at right angles to each other.

[1] http://news.yahoo.com/racism-factor-obamas-low-rating-211500256.html 

[2] http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/joan_walsh/politics/2009/09/14/obama  Joan Walsh writes: “They’ve blackened Obama, in both senses of the word — simultaneously diminishing his support and emphasizing his ethnicity. Simply by raising consciousness about the president’s race and associating him with radical identity politics, they’ve diminishing his standing among a large swath of the public.”

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/16/obama-racism-conservatives-opposition  Mr. Tomasky does say, “First, it’s said, the anger felt towards Obama – among the “tea party” contingent, for instance – is in the main ideological. Let me be clear: I agree with this. It is in the main ideological,” before he states there is some latent form of racism as well.

[4] http://www.gallup.com/poll/113968/Obama-Initial-Approval-Ratings-Historical-Context.aspx

[5] http://www.gallup.com/poll/149225/Obama-Weekly-Average-Approval-Holds-Term-Low.aspx

[6]  http://www.slate.com/id/2204251/sidebar/2204308/

Pictures from Wikipedia Commons.

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