With such high unemployment numbers in the black community, this was inevitable — especially given Obama’s stated reluctance to target African Americans for specific help — even though unemployment is hitting them twice as hard. There’s only a one-to-three point spread between white and black voters on Obama’s popularity, so I’d say race has very little to do with it:
New cracks have begun to show in President Obama’s support amongst African Americans, who have been his strongest supporters. Five months ago, 83 percent of African Americans held “strongly favorable” views of Obama, but in a new Washington Post-ABC news poll that number has dropped to 58 percent. That drop is similar to slipping support for Obama among all groups.
“There is a certain amount of racial loyalty and party loyalty, but eventually that was going to have to weaken,” said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, who studies African Americans. “It’s understandable given the economy.”
African Americans have historically correlated approval ratings of the president to the unemployment rate, she said. The slip in the strongly favorable rating continues the decline Obama has seen among all groups, but black voters have been his staunchest supporters. Overall, they still hold a generally favorable view of the president with 86 percent saying they view him at least somewhat favorably.
Gillespie’s view that the decline is tied to the disproportionately high jobless rate faced by African Americans correlates with the drop in their view of Obama’s handling of the economy. In July, only 54 percent of blacks said they thought Obama’s policies were making the economy better compared with 77 percent the previous year.
Similarly, the White House has been sharply criticized in recent months by black political leaders, who argue that he has not done enough to help blacks. The unemployment rate for African Americans hit 16 percent this summer, the highest rate since 1984, and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus launched a jobs tour focused on the problem.
This week the caucus is holding its annual legislative caucus in Washington, and the focus of a series of morning panels Wednesday was the lack of progress on jobs. Rep. Maxine Waters, who has been pushing Obama and publicly chided an administration official during the jobs tour to say the word “black” and directly address the needs of the community, said she would “continue to push the president and the Congress to adopt targeted policies to address the need.”
Waters, who heads the CBC’s jobs initiative, said she saw the frustration that is registering in the president’s polls at the jobs fairs she attended. “I saw the kind of hopelessness that is setting in. People were not only discouraged, they came to try to get a job, but they didn’t really believe that something substantive was going to happen,” she said.
Clyde McQueen, who is African American and runs a job placement firm in Kansas City, agreed. “The masses of young people and the first-time voter and entry-level workers are being so adversely impacted through downsizing at all levels,” said McQueen, who is attending the CBC meetings this week. “They are looking at the head of the government. When you are at the top, you take the blame.”
And yet, MSNBC talking head and Nation writer Melissa Harris-Perry seems to think Obama’s dropping poll numbers are based on a more insidious form of racism:
President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
Once again, a member of the media/academic Village misses the obvious: We didn’t have all these people struggling to find work during the Clinton administration. In fact, unemployment was at 4.7% – not like the double-digit, long-term unemployment we have now. Harris-Perry may not remember because she was in high school at the time, but I do. I was making more money than I’d ever made in my life.
It’s still the economy.