Poll says Southern blacks hopeful

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 27, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The majority of Southern blacks believe the country is on the right track, even while rating the national economy as being in very bad shape, according to a Winthrop University/ETV poll released Thursday.

The poll shows 90 percent of blacks in 11 Southern states approve of the way President Barack Obama — the nation’s first black president — is handling his job a month after his inauguration, while less than 1 percent disapprove.

‘‘The surprising thing was so many African-Americans are so deeply concerned about the economy, and yet seven out of 10 think we’re headed in the right direction,’’ said the poll’s writer, Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon.

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Black Southerners ‘‘are not using their usual lens of the conditions of the country, but how great it is we elected an African-Americans president — something most probably thought they wouldn’t see in their lifetime,’’ he said.

He noted respondents’ hope for the future certainly doesn’t come from Congress: 44 percent disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job and 20 percent aren’t sure.

The Winthrop/ETV poll was conducted by landline phone Feb. 6-22 and included 659 black adults in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.82 percentage points.

Just over half of respondents said the economy is the biggest problem facing the country, while an additional 20 percent rated unemployment at the top. No other issue registered above the margin of error.

Of those polled, 85 percent rated the national economy as fairly or very bad, even though six in 10 considered their own finances in good shape.

‘‘The circumstances of their actual personal finances might not have changed, but they’re clearly worried,’’ Huffmon said.

About three-fourths of Southern blacks believe Obama’s election will open up opportunities for blacks and lead to more real progress in ending discrimination in America. Nearly six in 10 believe the election made it easier to talk about race with people of a different race.

But almost everyone polled said they believe President Obama will treat whites and blacks the same, the poll showed.

That dispels the assumption by Obama’s critics that blacks voted for him because they think he’s going to push policies specifically to help blacks, Huffmon said.

‘‘It turns out African-Americans don’t expect that at all,’’ he said.

Two of every three Southern blacks also believe Obama will treat the rich and poor equally, though one out of four think he’ll favor the poor, according to the poll.