A generation ago, if you had polled blacks and whites in America about the future, you would have likely received a much different result than the one recently published by the Associated Press.
For decades now NORC at the University of Chicago has been polling Americans of different races, asking their thoughts about the future. For years, the whites were happy and excited about the future, the blacks saw years of struggle ahead … but that might be changing.
According to the poll, while blacks and Hispanics are still economically worse off than whites as a whole, more of these less well-to-do folks have a higher belief in the American Dream than do their white counterparts.
Part of the difference in perspective has to do with the slope of progress. More minority people have seen sharp inclines in opportunity and income than have whites, whose lower and middle-class cohorts have seen relatively stagnant returns in recent decades.
Some are blaming politics. They say when Bush was in office, whites felt better about the future, but now that a Democrat resides in the White House, more minorities are feeling the love. It’s an argument that has myriad detractors who claim the feelings are much deeper than that.
They fall back on the evidence that the past looks much dimmer for minorities in the U.S. than does the future. Opportunities are better. Jobs prospects are better too. The biggest deciding factor is in how the question is asked. Respondents are asked if their standard of living will improve. Blacks and whites started at much different points when the NORC began asking that question. Blacks have seen things get better. Whites less so. As these two groups begin to coalesce in the middle, where opportunity is defined more by socioeconomic status and by education than by race.
But these differences are mainly comparative. Just barely more than half of black respondents thought there were better days ahead, while only 40 percent of whites thought so. On both sides that’s nearly half and more than half that believe otherwise. These are the folks national-level politicians need to reach if they want to be in control of the government.
These folks don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they are looking for someone to blame. The politicians who can tap into that group and help them find their hope and change or morning in America have the best shot at long-term gains.