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Polls and Elections: Do Blacks and Whites See Obama through Race-Tinted Glasses? A Comparison of Obama's and Clinton's Approval Ratings


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Vladimir Kogan and Costas Panagopoulos for helpful comments. All errors remain our own.

Marisa Abrajano is an associate professor of political science at the University of California San Diego. She is the author of New Faces, New Voices (with R. Michael Alvarez) and Campaigning to the New American Electorate.

Craig M. Burnett is an assistant professor of political science at Appalachian State University. His research interests include public opinion, direct democracy, and urban politics.


Recent presidential approval trends have led many pollsters to conclude that a “racial gap” exists in President Barack Obama's job approval ratings. Pollsters have focused disproportionately on the substantial gap between Blacks and Whites. Some political commentators and media outlets attribute this divergence to the fact that Obama is the first ethnic/racial minority to occupy the White House. The existence of a White-Black gap, however, could merely reflect the differences in the political preferences of White and Black Americans. In this article, we assess these two competing arguments by analyzing CNN polling data spanning President Obama's inauguration in January 2009 to June 2011. For comparative purposes, we examine Time/CNN polling data that begins with President Bill Clinton's inauguration in January 1993 to June 1995. Our findings suggest that the gap in Black support for President Obama is significantly larger than it is for President Clinton, providing evidence that racial group pride and solidarity appear to play an important role in Blacks' evaluations of Obama.