Posted on January 28, 2014

Stark Racial Differences in Views on U.S. Status

Justin McCarthy, Gallup, January 28, 2014

Overall, Americans are as likely to be positive (39%) about the current state of the country as they are to be negative (40%). However, the gap between whites’ and nonwhites’ views of where the country stands is wider than at any point in recent history, with nonwhites now almost twice as likely as whites to view the nation’s situation positively.

These findings are from Gallup’s annual Mood of the Nation poll, conducted Jan. 5-8, 2014, which asked Americans to rate the present standing of the U.S. using a zero-to-10 ladder scale, with 10 being the best possible situation for the country and zero being the worst. Scores from six to 10 are considered positive, and scores from zero to four are considered negative; five is neutral.

The question does not refer to the presidency, yet the elected official occupying the White House has dramatically affected the way particular demographic groups have viewed the country in recent years. From the tail end of President Bill Clinton’s presidency in January 2001 through the start of the last full year of George W. Bush’s presidency in January 2008, whites’ and nonwhites’ ratings of the nation’s standing were generally similar, although whites tended to be slightly more positive than nonwhites. The greatest gap between the two groups’ views was 12 points in 2005, just after Bush’s re-election.

This changed after the 2008 presidential election, when differences between the two racial groups started to get larger. Between 2008 and 2010, the views of whites and nonwhites soured, likely reflecting the major economic challenges that erupted in late 2008. However, whites’ views declined much more than nonwhites’, resulting in a six-point gap in 2010 with nonwhites more positive than whites.

More than half of whites (53%) were positive about the country’s current trajectory in January 2008–10 months before the presidential election. After President Barack Obama’s first year in office, that percentage fell to 35%. Four years later, that figure is roughly the same.

Conversely, nonwhites have been increasingly positive about the United States’ standing. While their assessments of current conditions dipped with the rest of the country’s in 2010, nonwhites’ views have increased 16 percentage points since then.