According to a new Gallup poll, President Obama’s job approval rating is at an overall 46%, down from a 66% high in the month he was inaugurated. But here’s where it gets particularly interesting: the poll dissects the President’s support by race. Many commentators get touchy about this kind of data, concerned that extracting any findings—or even simply acknowledging the issue of race in an analysis—would in and of itself be racist, even though they don’t have any of the same qualms when voters are profiled according to gender, age, or income. Let’s assume that the Gallup organization isn’t some kind of racist lynch mob, and that we can learn something from their data.
So what did they find? Well, first off—62% of whites approved of Obama’s job performance when he first took office, compared with 38% now. Meanwhile, the proportion of blacks who approve of Obama’s performance has remained the same at 88%. Obama’s favorable ratings is twice as high among blacks than whites.
In most every election, 80% of blacks vote Democratic—the perceived party of free stuff—rather than for the party that ended slavery. But this Gallup survey wasn’t a poll about who you want to vote for. It’s about whether the guy in office is doing a good job. There’s a big difference: For Obama to have had good numbers when up against John McCain during the 2008 election cycle is one thing. In that case, people are being asked if they favor him over another real, tangible candidate. But in a midterm approval poll, an incumbent is being compared to the intangible—to the ideal.
Slamming a deadbeat President hard in an approval poll at midterm is no-risk. It’s a chance for people to vent their frustrations down a phone line to an exasperated minimum-wage employee without having to worry about whether in doing so you’re handing a victory to the other guy.
Typically, midterm politicians who aren’t exceptionally stellar don’t fare too well because even partisan voters use these polls to express their anger and outrage over lack of delivery or failure of expectations, in hope that that it will provide a good kick in the pants. But in this case, Obama is currently winning handily in the black community.
There is one of two logical conclusions to be drawn. Either this particular voting constituency is thoroughly satisfied, or just hopelessly clueless.
In the interest of perhaps naïve optimism, let’s first consider the possibility that Obama is meeting all black voters’ expectations.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that unemployment among blacks is set to hit a record 25-year high this year at 17.2%. With the economy being the foremost issue on everyone’s mind, I think we can stop there.
Now, let’s presume moderate to rampant “cluelessness” within this voter group. Is there hard,scientific any evidence to suggest such a phenomenon?
Why yes, there is. A recent Gallup poll found that blacks are significantly more optimistic about their standard of living than whites, and concludes: “Blacks have become more optimistic about their standards of living since the financial crisis of 2008. It is not clear whether this is grounded in real economic gains for blacks over this time, or whether it is merely the result of greater optimism among blacks in general about the economic climate for the United States and their own families. The latter explanation seems more likely, given that blacks began to be more optimistic around the same time that Barack Obama was inaugurated as President, but before his economic policies could have had a tangible impact on Americans’ lives.”
Translation: Obama has indeed delivered—in the ‘hope’ department. As for the ‘change’—it’s only still a figment of some voters’ imagination, with a disproportionate number of those voters happening to be black.
This is a thesis which is unfortunately proven repeatedly. Radio shock-jock Howard Stern’s staff took to the streets of Harlem in the run-up to the 2008 vote and, attributing all of McCain’s positions to Obama, asked blacks questions like: “Do you like Obama because he’s pro-life, or because he thinks our troops should stay in Iraq and finish this war.” One after another, respondents replied that policies like this are exactly why they love him.
It’s a phenomenon that extends beyond Obama: When Chantal Biya (black), wife of Cameroon’s dictator, Paul Biya (black), appeared at the Bastille Day celebrations in France, one commenter after another on various American news and gossip websites raved about how “fabulous” and “amazing” she is. Would they have had the same reaction to the wife of a white dictator? Or would human rights have then taken precedence over skin color?
The same websites recently covered Michelle Obama’s holidays in Spain, with commenters raving in disproportionate numbers about her shocking beauty, with one admitting to being moved to tears. Is Michelle Obama really that blindingly attractive? Is it racist to say that she isn’t?
There is absolutely no logical reason for Obama to be enjoying double his overall popularity rating within any single voting group, unless he’s personally coming to your door to buy you off.
Granted, he just signed off on extending unemployment benefits—extending the gravy train track a bit further out over the cliff. But that’s a band-aid, not a solution.
At what point do some voters leave race aside and objectively admit to a polling company that they don’t have a clue whether Obama is really doing a good job, or whether he just looks cool (or black) doing it? Or alternatively, can these same voters acknowledge that it’s indeed possible to share the same skin tone with someone who’s rather disappointing without having that disappointment reflect on anyone else of that skin tone? A post-racial society would be nice—but these voters suggest that we’re still a long way off.