Barack Obama

Economic Inequality Through a Racial Lens

Perceptions that racial economic inequality have disappeared are glaringly wrong, which explains part of the public debate disconnect that it has disappeared.

Perceptions that racial economic inequality have disappeared are glaringly wrong, which explains part of the public debate disconnect that it has disappeared.

Racial bias is generally viewed through the lens of race. A new Yale University study shows wealthy white people view racial equality is a fact, despite data and perceptions of low-income blacks that suggests quite the opposite.

Analyzing US Census data, Yale researchers found African Americans are the only racial group still making less money than in 2000.

Jennifer Richeson, a Yale psychology professor who co-wrote the study, said with understatement, “Our views about racial progress and economic equality are fairly inconsistent with reality. She added, “The misperception of improving racial equality is itself an obstacle to actually achieving the progress that everyone seems to be celebrating.”

The improvement people across racial and income barriers perceive is actually wishful thinking. The Washington Post reported, “The average black household made 60 percent of what white households made in 2016 and less than half of what Asians made, according to census data. For every $100 of wealth accumulated by a white family, a black family has little more than $5 – a gap just as wide as it was 50 years ago, according to federal statistics cited by the Yale researchers.”

“Wealthy whites were also the most inaccurate in estimating racial economic equality in the present,” The Post reported. “Higher-status individuals – i.e. wealthy whites – are especially motivated to perceive society as fair so they can justify their elevated status as merit-based rather than resulting from luck or discriminatory systems, researchers said.”

Richeson tells The Post, “We need to stop deceiving ourselves. It could be a lack of information, but there’s also a role of willful blindness. Wealth inequality based on race is baked into this country’s founding, and we cannot handle it. It is not that these individuals don’t work hard enough or are genetically inferior.”

It would be easy to be pessimistic about the Yale study findings, which cited “continued discrimination in housing and bank loans [that] sabotages black Americans' ability to accumulate wealth. But there’s no real policy push to fix that, because most people don’t see the extent of the racial wealth gap to begin with.” You won’t fix what you don’t think is broken.

Passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation has been deemed by some members of US society as the cures to discrimination. “It is not surprising Americans who don’t have much contact with other races and incomes have drawn false conclusions about other people's economic experiences,” according to the study. “Wealthy blacks have more racially and economically diverse social networks compared to wealthy whites, who have little understanding of the economic outcomes of most black Americans.”

The disconnect rears its head periodically, often in response to jury verdicts that acquit white police officers who shoot black men, as happened this week in Missouri.

“So many of us grew up hearing the story about America that basically said there was slavery and then that was fixed. Martin Luther King marched and then that was fixed. And then we had Obama,” Richeson said. “That’s a nice, clean story that makes everyone feel good even though it’s shockingly inaccurate."

Presidential Approval Follows Similar Trends

A recent article by Pew Research demonstrates changes in presidential approval ratings from Eisenhower through today.

A recent article by Pew Research demonstrates changes in presidential approval ratings from Eisenhower through today.

Pew Research just released an overview of presidential job approval ratings from Eisenhower to Obama based on research conducted by Pew and Gallup from 1952 to 2015.

There were a few things that struck me as interesting in the data included in Pew Research’s article, For Presidents Day, a look at presidential job approval ratings from Ike to Obama.

  1. Approval ratings by party for each president changed in a similar fashion. Regardless of president or party, approval ratings went up and down at about the same rate and time for all 11 presidents.
  2. Approval ratings for nine of 11 presidents declined as their term in office drew to a close. The only exceptions were Carter and Reagan.
  3. Overall high and low approval ratings for Reagan and Obama are similar. Reagan’s high approval was 68 percent and low 35 percent compared to Obama’s high of 64 percent and low of 41 percent.
  4. The largest gap between high and low ratings were for the two Bushes, net 60 for George and net 64 for George W. Conversely, the smallest change from high to low were for Obama, net 23, and Kennedy, net 26.
  5. The fond memories of the Camelot Years of the Kennedy administration may be an illusion. Kennedy’s approval ratings were declining significantly during the months immediately prior to his assassination.

When released, Presidential approval ratings are interesting tidbits for coffee shops and cocktail parties. But a closer look at trends and comparisons yields surprising and unexpected results. You find substantive topics such as war, the economy, domestic strife, international relations and perhaps the favorite topic of all, scandal.

Poll Numbers Buoy Military Intervention

President Obama speaks to a nation more willing to return to Iraq to combat radical Islamists.

President Obama speaks to a nation more willing to return to Iraq to combat radical Islamists.

For a nation weary of war and wary of the Middle East, the swing in poll numbers supporting U.S. military action against Islamic radicals in Iraq and Syria is nothing short of remarkable.

As President Obama addresses the nation, a new poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News indicates 61 percent of Americans favor confronting the Islamic state. A third of respondents approved of both airstrikes and ground troops to degrade and destroy the radical group that has swept through and captured large chunks of Iraq and a portion of Syria. A year ago, only 21 percent of Americans supported U.S. military action in the Middle East.

The videotaped beheading of two U.S. journalists has played a role in reversing American attitudes to support a more aggressive posture, which presumably wasn't what the radicals had in mind. The WSJ/NBC News poll was conducted just after the beheadings.

The swing in attitude toward the radicals gives Obama a chance to revive his sagging 32 percent approval rating on his handling of national defense and foreign policy issues. It also gives him more latitude in selecting a strategy.

Ironically, Obama may have newfound GOP support for counterterrorism. In a meeting with Obama, Republican House Speaker John Boehner expressed support for training and equipping Iraqi security forces and Syrian rebels and for sending U.S. troops back into the region if the mission was to eliminate the radicals.

More hawkish viewpoints pose their own dilemma. Supporters say it won't be enough to contain the Islamic state, it must be defeated.

When Obama earlier considered air strikes in Syria, he got pushback from members of his own political party and a lack of backing in Congress. He steps on the stage tonight more sure-footed with polls numbers and unifying political forces in support of military action.

The WSJ/NBC News poll consisted of telephone interviews with 1,000 registered voters, including 350 respondents who use cell phones. The poll was conducted by Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies and Fred Yang at Hart Research.

Millennials Sour on Politics, Obama

Millennials are losing faith, interest and trust in politics in general and in President Obama and Obamacare specifically, according to a new poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics.

Young adults are disaffected by politics. Because more of them identify with Democrats than Republicans, the Democratic Party may feel the biggest hit.

For the younger generation, the economy and prospects for a good-paying job top their agenda. Access to health insurance ranks a distant second.

All this bodes badly for President Obama, who rode to office and won re-election with solid support from voters under 30 years old. Now the youngest voting-age adults seem to be peeling off his bandwagon, without jumping aboard anyone else's.

Only 41 percent of millennials approve of Obama's job performance and 54 percent disapprove, which tracks with the rest of the population. They give the President low marks on how he has dealt with major issues and express pessimism about Obamacare — 50 percent believe their health care expenses will rise and 40 percent think the quality of care will decline.

A Huffington Post article says the Harvard poll results match closely with similar findings by a 2010 Pew Research survey, revealing the attachment to Obama and Democrats had weakened.

Shortcomings of the Presidential Speech

Most Americans look to the President for leadership, but evidence compiled by Pew Research suggests they don't often find it in major presidential speeches.

President Obama will try his luck tonight in a televised address seeking to convince skeptical, war-weary Americans of the need to make a targeted military strike against Syria. Polling data indicates opinion is running against U.S. military action. 

Based on history, Pew Research says Obama's speech isn't like to make much difference, except perhaps to make the emotionally charged issue more partisan. 

After sifting through a database of major presidential addresses devoted to specific topics, Pew concluded, "The speeches don't seem to do much to move the needle on public opinion or push Congress in the President's direction."

"President Reagan, for instance, was unable to convince even a plurality of Americans that the United States should provide military aid to the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government, despite three Oval Office addresses on the issue between March 1986 and February 1988."

President George H. W. Bush similarly failed to convince more than a third of Americans of the value of a deficit reduction deal he struck with Congress in 1990.

President George W. Bush took to the airwaves urging immigration reform with "path to citizenship," but failed to increase public support for such a plan from pre-speech levels.

Radical Listening for Informed Decision-Making

What do you do when the boss announces a major decision and subsequent surveys show his coworkers and customers strongly disagree?

If you are the Commander-in-Chief and have an army at your disposal, you may go ahead anyway. But most organizational leaders usually think a better strategy is to stage a tactical retreat, however humiliating. 

The should-we-bomb-Syria situation serves as a good reminder to do your listening first before you announce major decisions or take bold actions.

Research is a critical tool for contemporary decision-making. It is less about seeing which way the wind is blowing than about understanding the context in which you are acting.

Knowing what your employees, stakeholders and customers think doesn't confine you. However, it does inform you about their receptivity to your product, service or idea. You can move ahead with more understanding of the challenge you face in making the sale or convincing a skeptic.

Too often, business and nonprofit leaders think of research as a one-off activity. You conduct a survey or a focus group to see what people think in the moment. A better construct is to see research as an integral and ongoing part of decision-making.