A poll released Thursday by Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., found that 70 percent of black students ages 15 to 18 thought their standard of living would be better than their parents, compared with just 36 percent of white students.
Overall, 39 percent of respondents thought they would have a higher living standard.
Those numbers and the level of optimism among black students appeared to be closely tied to their enthusiasm for President Barack Obama, making for what some called the “Obama effect.”
Asked about the president’s performance, more than two-thirds of black students rated his performance as “good” or “very good,” compared with 23 percent of white students. Overall, about a quarter of the students who were surveyed rated the president highly.
“Young African Americans have this serious afterglow that is not as strong with whites and Hispanics,” Della Volpe [John Della Volpe, polling director of Harvard Institute of Politics] said. “And that’s despite (African American youth) having more serious economic concerns.”
Stephen Wu, the Hamilton economist who oversaw the poll, said he was surprised by the stark difference in optimism among races and that black students’ attitudes appeared to be so tied to their view of the president.
But many students–even in Chicago, the Obama family’s home outside Washington–said they witness the divide all the time.
“It always comes back to Obama,” said Deja Bailey, a 15-year-old African American student who attends the city’s prestigious Walter Payton High School. Even her own friends can’t agree. She said one of them carries a scrapbook about the president and frequently argues with others who say he’s doing a “horrible” job.
But others, such as Harry Tsang, a 19-year-old college freshman in Orlando, Fla., said they’re done being patient. Worried about the deficit and government involvement in matters such as health care, the former Obama supporter has started volunteering for Florida Republican Marco Rubio, who’s running for the U.S. Senate.
Tsang, a native of Hong Kong, acknowledges that he was once drawn to the president’s charisma and his message of change.
“It was more about him than the issues. It turns out, it’s not the way I think,” said Tsang, who also joined the Florida Federation of Teenage Republicans, which has seen its membership double to 800 students since Obama was elected.
The Harvard Institute of Politics survey released last month found that among 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed, a third of whites and just 18 percent of Hispanics planned to vote in the midterm election.
That compares with 41 percent of African Americans who said the same.