The Number of Americans Who Say Racism Is a Big Problem Has Doubled Since Obama Took Office

Brittany M. Hughes | August 29, 2017
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The number of Americans who say racism is a major problem in the United States has more than doubled since the year Barack Obama first become president, according to a new study out from the Pew Research Center.

A whopping 58 percent of Americans now say racism is a big problem facing the country, while another 29 say it’s “somewhat” of an issue. Only three percent of Pew’s respondents said they don’t think racism is a problem at all.

According to Pew, the number of Americans who see racism as a serious issue has grown exponentially since Obama first took office back in January 2009.

Since 2009, the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, growing numbers of both Democrats and Republicans have seen racism as a big problem. In 2015, 58% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and 40% of Republicans and Republican leaners said racism was a major problem, up from 32% and 18%, respectively, in 2009.

The number of Americans who point to racism as a big problem has fluctuated over the past two decades. Back in July of 1996, just four years after the infamous L.A. race riots following the public police beating of Rodney King, Pew notes that 53 percent of respondents said racism was a big problem in the United States.

But the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president was thought by many to be a step toward solving America’s perceived problems with racism. It wasn't. In fact, Pew's polls from back in early 2009 show only 26 percent of Americans said racism was a big problem for society at the time -- less than half the number who say the same today.

And perhaps this should come as no surprise. The Obama years were fraught with racial tensions, a national issue triggered largely by the police shooting of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown in 2014. The widely publicized incident that sparked a years-long rash of rioting, accusations of police brutality, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

For his part, Obama did little to calm the simmering division, drawing widespread criticism for this failure to sharply condemn the violence and, if anything, encouraging the divide.

While the number of Americans who say racism is a big problem has risen among both Democrats and Republicans, that opinion is also heavily divided along party lines. Pew notes that the number of Democrats who say racism is a major issue has steadily risen from 58 percent to 76 percent since January of 2009. The number of Republicans who say the same, however, has risen from 18 percent to 37 percent.

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