American Sociological Association

In Whom Do We Trust? Racial Trust in the Early Years of Barack Obama’s Presidency

For many African Americans, Barack Obama’s presidential victory in 2008 was a step toward a racially tolerant society. Yet for others, the attack on Obama’s religious faith and citizenship status reflected long-standing racial divisions within the electorate. Using ordered probit analyses, our study focuses on racial trust and social capital in the early years of Obama’s presidency. In assessing the relationship between Obama’s domestic policies and racial trust, our study closely aligns with the research on policy feedbacks. We investigate the possibility that Obama’s flagship economic and social policies—specifically the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and unemployment insurance—operated as a bridge between whites, blacks, and Latinos. We further consider whether higher support for these policies reproduced greater levels of interracial trust among the groups. To measure racial trust, we draw from a 2010 survey sponsored by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas. The Blair-Rockefeller Poll was administered shortly after the 2010 midterm elections and includes a sample size of 3,406 respondents with an oversample of blacks (825) and Latinos (932). Although we found noticeably high rates of racial distrust, blacks expressed the lowest levels of distrust compared to whites and Latinos. We also discovered varying effects of Obama’s policies on increasing racial trust.





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