For black and Latino Americans, a glass mysteriously half full

“We see the biggest gap in optimism between in blacks and whites since 1987,” Benz said, noting that before, blacks were more pessimistic and whites more optimistic. She said there’s now a 25-percentage-point optimism gap between whites and blacks and a 27-point difference between whites and Latinos.

“Implicit in this discussion is that there must be one thing [that’s] driving these trend lines across racial and ethnic groups,” Benz said. But what’s likely happening, she said, is that white folks and people of color were responding to several different phenomena in American life.

Benz explained that pollsters usually try to get a sense of people’s optimism across a bunch of different indices. They might pose a question like this, for example: People like me and my family have a better chance of succeeding. Agree or disagree?

“But pollsters can also look at optimism as ‘faith in government institutions,'” Benz said. And most of the respondents (70 percent) who reported to the General Social Survey that they had a high deal of confidence in the government’s executive branch also agreed that “the way things are in America, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living.”