Behind the polls

The headline story about an AP-Yahoo poll out today suggests that Barack Obama is running up against a challenge in his bid for the presidency: Many whites don’t care much for African Americans. (See questions and answers)

The poll sought to measure latent prejudices among whites by asking about factors contributing to the state of black America. One finding: More than a quarter of white Democrats agreed that “if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.”

Those who agreed with that statement were much less likely to back Obama than those who didn’t.

Among white independents, racial stereotyping is not uncommon. For example, while about 20 percent of independent voters called blacks “intelligent” or “smart,” more than one third latched on the adjective “complaining,” and 24 percent said blacks were “violent.”

Nearly four in 10 white independents agreed that blacks would be better off if they “try harder.”

The poll also disputed the contention that younger whites in America are less likely to hold fewer racist views than their parents.

The survey found no meaningful differences among age groups in whites’ perceptions of blacks, although older whites appear more likely to discuss their views.

Only 20 percent of the whites surveyed have felt “admiration” for blacks either extremely often or very often. By contrast, 70 percent have felt the same way about whites.

The stories being written about the poll describe how voters feel about a particular candidate’s ability to address a specific issue. What they aren’t saying is that a large portion of those surveyed don’t know what they’re talking about.

Twenty percent of the people surveyed in this poll either don’t vote or seldom vote. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed haven’t been following news about the presidential campaign very much.