Poll: Stark racial differences in views on U.S. status

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.