Race and Ethnicity Still Play a Role In Political Attitudes

Unlike Whites and Hispanics, Young African-Americans Remain Loyal to Obama and Democrats 

Young voters claim an historic distinction: they played a key role in the election of the nation’s first African-American president. Yet despite varying levels of support for President Obama among whites, African-Americans and Latinos who voted for the Democrat by majorities in 2008, a deep racial divide that has been evident among young voters for more than 30 years appears to have only hardened -- especially between young white and young black voters. And the disparity is not simply in how they vote; it extends into which social networks they prefer as well.

Even as Obama’s approval ratings have dipped, African-American youth remain largely supportive of the president, with 78 percent approving of the president’s job performance, compared to 31 percent of whites and 49 percent of Hispanics. Since we began our regular polling of the Obama administration in 2009, approval ratings among African-Americans have never been lower than 75 percent and in 9- of 11- IOP polls, they have been over 80 percent.

Race is the biggest factor (aside from party identification and political ideology) when it comes to approval of President Obama. Between gender, different age groups, religions, income levels, education, geography and community type, no gap in approval was as wide as the ones between whites and blacks. Looking back to our pre-election 2008 poll in which Obama led John McCain by 28 points among likely voters under the age of 30, he led by 8 points among whites and by 86 points among blacks. According to exit polls, Obama won young white voters by 4 points in 2008, and black young voters by 90.

A racial divide in support of Congress can be seen as well; 26 percent of whites and 56 percent of blacks give positive approval ratings to Congressional Democrats. Republican lawmakers experience a smaller racial gap, with 25 percent of whites approving of Republican members of Congress and 14 percent of blacks feeling the same way.

On the question of which party should control Congress, blacks chose Democrats and whites, Republicans. And on specific issues related to the president’s performance, African-Americans gave Obama high marks on handling immigration, the deficit, the economy, foreign policy and health care while low approval ratings from white voters were a drag on the president’s overall rating.

On the direction of the country, blacks are significantly more optimistic than their white counterparts, with 11 percent of whites saying the country is generally going in the right direction, compared to 28 percent for blacks. The presence of actual pessimism is displayed in a wider gap: 54 percent of whites believe the nation is on the wrong track, compared to 16 percent of African-Americans. More than twice as many blacks than whites approve of the Affordable Care Act, 68 compared to 31 percent.

Perspective on Major Issues by Race

And other questions show a different worldview and day-to-day experience between black and white millennials. Neither group is happy with how members of Congress are behaving, but white voters tend to believe representatives most favor the campaign donors, while blacks think lawmakers are more responsive to their party leadership.

When we studied the use of social media platforms, we found significant differences by race as well. For example, white millennials are significantly more likely than African-Americans to use Facebook and Snapchat, and are more than twice as likely as blacks to use Pinterest. African-Americans, on the other hand, are more likely than whites to prefer Instagram and Twitter.

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