The Perception Gap

Back on Monday, though Ross saw no hope for the GOP in efforts to pick up black voters in 2008, he was fairly optimistic about their longer-term prospects, citing in particular this result from a recent Pew survey on racial attitudes:

A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don't get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress.

It's intriguing, but also a somewhat ill-posed question in my view as it excludes a large middle ground of possibilities. I'd say, for example, that the legacy of discrimination as manifest in things like the large black-white hap in asset ownership plays a large role. What's more telling, I think, is the persistence of giant racial gaps in perception of the existence of racist discrimination. Pew asked if blacks face discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, college admissions, and day-to-day retail and you see a huge split between the number of blacks who feel there is "frequently" or "almost always" discrimination, and the number of whites who feel this way:


In short, though relatively few blacks see racist discrimination as "mainly responsible" for the condition of "blacks who don't get ahead," most African-Americans think African-Americans get discriminated against a lot. Adding the numbers up presents an even starker image:


Blacks see an America where there's pervasive discrimination. Most whites, by contrast, hardly see any discrimination at all. People who feel like they're the victims of frequent discrimination in many walks of life are going to be drawn toward political leaders who seem to share their concerns and show some inclination to do something about it. Democratic Party politicians are good at doing that. Republican Party politicians, almost all of whom are white people who've spent their entire careers securing the votes of other white people and then caucusing with all-white groups of colleagues, are really, really bad at it.