African-Americans remain hopeful despite the economy's disproportionately adverse effect on their communities.
A presidential election is, in theory, a national affair, but the reality is that voters in the battlegrounds are often the ones who decide the outcome. African-Americans in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and others are key parts of that core electorate, but aside from their overwhelming support for President Obama, the polls that are released each week rarely offer glimpses into their views on critical issues.
BET News polled African-Americans in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin on their views on the candidates, social issues and voting. Their backgrounds are varied. They include "hopeful elites" who are mostly college graduates living in integrated neighborhoods (13 percent); "solid seniors" (27 percent), whose biggest concern is cuts to programs; and "anxious families" (31 percent) that are most concerned about college education cost and value issues.
"Frustrated youth," who, despite suspicions that the "system is rigged," still feel optimistic about their personal economic futures, made up 30 percent of the respondents. Only 2 percent of all poll participants say they support Republican Mitt Romney.
The poll, conducted by Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, not only gauge where people stand on various topics, but also puts to rest the rumors of an enthusiasm gap between 2008 and 2012 that have been used to predict low voter turnout. In fact, 92 percent said they are very likely to vote in November and just 4 percent reported feeling less interested than in 2008. Eighty-five percent also said they're following the election closely.
African-Americans, who've been disproportionately affected by the nation's economic downturn and subsequently slow recovery, are "surprisingly optimistic," the poll found. Seventy-seven percent say the economy is stabilizing and getting better; 61 percent said their personal finances have gotten better compared to 7 percent who say theirs have gotten worse.
Interestingly, while lawmakers debate which side is offering the best plan for much-needed job creation, 38 percent of African-Americans are more concerned about whether their salary and wages are keeping up with the cost of living and 24 percent said that affordable health care is their chief concern. Finding work and being laid off was the their third most significant concern.
Each month, the African-American unemployment rate goes up and down, but remains stubbornly high. The poll found that opinions vary about what's keeping Black communities behind. Economic opportunities, such as good paying jobs and educational training, was the cause cited by 38 percent of respondents, while 46 percent placed the blame on a moral decline and breakdown in the family structure. Younger voters, aged 18-29, at 60 percent, are more likely to say the reason is economic, while 58 percent of middle-aged voters point to a moral decline.
Whether Obama has adequately addressed African-American unemployment and other economic issues compared to other "special interest groups" has been a lightening-rod topic of debate among Black leaders. Seventy-six percent said that the president should focus on the national economy.
On social issues, African-Americans are divided. Some do not share the president's position, but that doesn't diminish their support for him. Forty percent said they favor marriage equality, while 38 percent oppose it. Among frequent churchgoers, 87 percent give Obama a high job approval, 89 percent high approve of how he's handling the economy and he gets an 89 percent high favorability rating.