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Poll: Blacks See Improved Race Relations

For the first time in CBS News polling history, a majority of blacks are casting race relations in the United States in a positive light.

Fifty-nine percent of African-Americans - along with 65 percent of whites - now characterize the relationship between blacks and whites in America as "good," according to a new CBS News/New York Times survey.

Less than a year ago, just 29 percent of blacks said race relations were good. The percentage of blacks who say race relations are bad, meanwhile, has dropped from 59 percent last July to 30 percent today.

Sixty-one percent of blacks say there has been real progress in getting rid of racial discrimination since the 1960s. That's up from 37 percent in December 1996. Eighty-seven percent of whites say there has been real progress since the 1960s.

Despite the increasingly positive perceptions, however, most blacks feel that discrimination lingers. Asked who has a better chance to get ahead in U.S. society, fifty-one percent of blacks said white people do. Forty-four percent said both races had equal opportunity, while just one percent said blacks had an advantage.

White people, by contrast, were far more likely to see a level playing field, with 62 percent saying both races had equal opportunity. Roughly one in four white said white people have a better chance to get ahead, while seven percent of whites said black people have the better opportunities.

Still, this data offers encouraging trends: the percentage of blacks who say that both races have equal opportunities has risen by twelve points since last July.

Perhaps surprisingly, most Americans do not directly credit President Obama for improving race relations. Fifty-nine percent of blacks and 65 percent of whites say race relations have stayed the same since Mr. Obama took office. But one in three blacks do say his presidency has meant a positive change in race relations.

The Obama Administration And African-American Optimism:

The election of the first-ever African-American president and his time in office has prompted an outpouring of optimism among African-Americans, despite the tough economic times.

Seventy-percent of African-Americans now say the country is headed in the right direction - more than twice the percentage of white Americans (34 percent) who say as much.

Back in January, just before Mr. Obama took office, only 21 percent of blacks (and 14 percent of whites) said the country was headed in the right direction.

Forty-one percent of blacks say the economy is getting better, while just 19 percent say it is getting worse. Whites, by contrast, are less optimistic, with 24 percent saying the economy is improving and 25 percent saying it is worsening.

Blacks are also overwhelmingly positive about the president's work on ending the recession and the war in Iraq, with 80 percent saying he has made progress on ending the recession and 73 percent saying he has made progress on ending the war.

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Whites are somewhat less positive, with 50 percent saying the president has made progress on ending the recession and 51 percent saying he has made progress on ending the war. And while 78 percent of blacks say Mr. Obama is bringing real change to how things are done in Washington, only 42 percent of whites say the same.

Whites and blacks are split on media coverage of the president. Nearly half of the African-Americans say the media are harder on Mr. Obama than other presidents, while just 12 percent say the media are easier on him. For whites, those percentages are roughly flipped: Just 15 percent say the media are harder on Mr. Obama than other presidents, while nearly half say they are easier on him.

The president's overall popularity, while nearly unanimous among African-Americans, extends to majorities of both races. Six in ten whites approve of the way Mr. Obama is handling his job. Two-thirds are optimistic about the next four years with him as president. Three out of four say he cares about their needs and problems at least somewhat. And 55 percent say he will bring different groups together.

Michelle Obama, meanwhile, is enormously popular among both races. Ninety-seven percent of blacks and eighty-one percent of whites approve of how the first lady, who has an overall approval rating of 84 percent, is handling her job. Zero percent of blacks - and just seven percent of whites - disapprove.

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 973 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 22-26, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

An oversample of African Americans was interviewed, for a total of 212 interviews with African Americans. The results then weighted in proportion to the racial composition of the adult population in the U.S. Census. The margin of error for the sample of African Americans is 7 points.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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