One statistic in a recent study by Rasmussen Reports stands out above all others. While President Barack Obama’s overall approval rating (a combination of both “strongly” approve and “somewhat” approve) during the last week of 2010 was only 38% among white voters, he enjoyed 94% approval among African American voters.
But this disparity wasn’t because of racially intolerant independents and Republicans; a similar racial disparity exists among Obama’s fellow Democrats. While Democrat voters gave their president a solid 82% approval rating, Rasmussen discovered a huge racial gap in the level of enthusiasm. While Obama earned “strong” approval (the level of loyalty that Rasmussen regards as more relevant) from 75% of black Democrats, he was “strongly” approved by just 40% of white Democrats, and just 33% of white Democrat men.
This disparity has widened greatly over the course of the Administration. When measured the first week after inauguration, Obama received “strong” approval of 88% of black Democrats, 72% of white Democrats and 70% of white Democrat men.
Some disenchantment is natural and has historically affected every presidency, but the disparate racial disenchantment within Obama’s own party is striking. While the president lost less than 15% of the “strong” support he had initially enjoyed among black Democrats, he lost 44% of his most enthusiastic support from white Democrats and over half of his strong approval of white Democrat men.
These numbers will probably not matter to Obama when he faces a Republican challenger in 2012, because Democrats historically rally behind their party’s president, whether enthusiastic or not. (The exception of the 20th Century, Jimmy Carter, lost because rural evangelical Democrats not only abandoned fellow evangelical Carter for Ronald Reagan in 1980, they largely realigned more or less permanently with the Republican Party.) But if a credible Democrat (not Mike Gravel or Dennis Kucinich, but Hillary Clinton or Russ Feingold) challenges Obama for renomination, he may have a problem.
Politics aside, a presidency that is so racially polarizing is not healthy for the country.
Update: The mainstream media validated my observations in this January 7, 2011 article in the center-left National Journal analyzing exit poll data from the 2010 election: White Flight: President Obama’s path to a second term may rely on states shaped by the same social forces he embodies. But I stand by my observations anyway!