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RACE/ETHNICITY, PERCEIVED DISCRIMINATION, AND BELIEFS ABOUT THE MEANING OF AN OBAMA PRESIDENCY

  • Matthew O. Hunt (a1) and David C. Wilson (a2)

Abstract

This paper explores how race/ethnicity and perceptions of racial discrimination and inequality shape beliefs about the implications of an Obama presidency for U.S. race relations. Specifically, using data from a June/July 2008 Gallup/USA Today survey, we examine how African Americans, Hispanics, and Whites differ in their perceptions of the importance of an Obama victory and in beliefs about the implications of such for race relations, racial progress, and opportunities for Blacks in their careers and in national politics. We also examine how perceptions of the extent and nature of racial discrimination and inequality shape these outcomes (overall and by race/ethnicity). Results show that African Americans, relative to Whites and Hispanics, are especially likely to see an Obama victory as important and meaningful in terms of relatively abstract notions of racial change. In contrast, Hispanics are more likely than African Americans and Whites to believe that an Obama win will translate into concrete societal changes, such as expanded opportunities for Blacks in work and politics. In addition, perceived discrimination and inequality positively shape all of the outcomes under study (more perceived discrimination equals more importance and optimism attached to an Obama win), though this association is especially strong among Whites—a pattern possibly rooted in divergent meanings attached to perceived discrimination and inequality by race/ethnicity. Overall, our findings suggest that African Americans view an Obama victory as meaningful primarily because of its symbolic significance, rather than because they believe it will result in substantive racial progress. We conclude by offering some speculation and selected questions for future research on race and U.S. politics.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Professor Matthew O. Hunt, Department of Sociology, Northeastern University, 500 Holmes Hall, 360 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail: m.hunt@neu.edu

References

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