(Photo: REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool)
A majority of white Americans are unhappy with President Barack Obama's job performance, suggest recent Gallup polling data, and it's not just because of his race, say political scientists from two of the nation's top universities.
The latest weekly snapshot of President Obama's approval rating provided by Gallup shows the president with a national approval rating of 48 percent among all adults. When that number is broken down by racial demographics, however, the distance between the approval ratings of white and non-white Americans is staggering.
Reflecting a weekly decline of just one percent, 76 percent of non-white Americans approve of President Obama's job performance while among whites that number has remained flat at 36 percent.
A breakdown of the non-white numbers gets even more interesting. President Obama's approval rating among blacks fell by eight percent from the week before the latest round of polling to 87 percent while it jumped by five percentage points among Hispanics to 69 percent over the same period.
And according to Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, the message in the numbers is all too clear.
"Clearly whites are significantly less approving of Obama's performance than non-whites," he said in an interview with The Christian Post on Thursday.
Before anyone starts jumping to conclusions that the numbers are skewed by racial animus toward the president, said Smith, it is important to note that since 1964 no Democratic candidate for president has ever carried the white vote in America and the approval rating has always been affected by that dynamic.
He explained, however, that President Obama's race coupled with his liberal agenda is what has really made it particularly difficult for whites to embrace him.
"It's also true that as the first non-white president and as someone who is perceived as a liberal Democrat, Obama is a difficult person for conservative white Americans to see as someone they identify with or someone who represents their interests," said Smith.
Racial attitudes are so deeply intertwined with policy attitudes in American political culture it makes it difficult to parse the factors apart, Smith further explained.
"… White men and overwhelmingly white Christian men have set the standards for the society as a whole and they are not comfortable with the fact that America is becoming a different nation in which white Christian men don't set standards for all and they see Obama as a symbol of that transformation," he said.
"But their discomfort is not simply racial, it's also about the kind of policies that are predominantly favored by those who are not white Christian men in a whole variety of economic and social arenas."
Carol Swain, a professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University who recently authored Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America's Faith and Promise and launched a TV show of the same name, said whites are not happy with the president because they feel he is not working in their interests.
"It's obvious that a lot of white people feel that he is not operating in the interest of the country and they're suspicious of him and his administration," she said.
"The administration has taken action, especially through the Department of Justice that would cause some people to fear that there is racial bias that would work against white people whether it's true or not. They have taken action with regard to voting rights and some other issues that would make them seem suspect," explained Swain.
In her comments on the polling data she also notes that a desire among people to be politically correct with their responses could belie Americans' true feelings about President Obama regardless of race.
"The survey shows 36 percent support (among whites), if people weren't lying it probably would be 20 percent," said Swain.
"I think there is a tendency to give the politically correct answer especially when you're talking about a black president. White people don't want to be perceived as racist and so I think that they're lying and a lot of blacks I guess, they are too," she said. "I know some black people that are unhappy with the president but I don't believe they would tell a pollster that."
The numbers, explained Swain, reflect nuances that go well beyond issues of race for many whites.
"I think that for members of the Judeo-Christian community that I belong to, it is his policies and his perceived hostility towards Israel, the fact that he doesn't respect the religious freedoms of people of faith, the move across college campuses to strip Christian groups of their rights ... I mean that's taking place because he is the president. I don't think it would be taking place under any other president," she said.
"The gay rights activists, he has emboldened them to the point where they are bullying a number of people around and all of these things that this president has sort of unleashed on America, I think white people for a variety of reasons are more likely to see it and acknowledge it," noted the Vanderbilt professor.
Swain, who is black and a Republican, says when it comes to race and political support in America there is a whole lot of disconnect, particularly among the black community where President Obama enjoys the highest approval rating of any racial demographic.
"It seems like symbolically with the language, whenever it seems like there is an opportunity to favor one race the Obama administration has been quick to do that even though in their actions, when it comes to policy, I don't see that they've done a whole lot for black people," said Swain.
And if unemployment statistics are anything to go by as a measure of prosperity, blacks continue to bear the highest rate of joblessness, according to the most recent jobs report.
Only 6.7 percent of white Americans are unemployed; that figure is the second lowest level of unemployment for any racial or ethnic demographics. Asians, enjoy the lowest rate of unemployment with a jobless rate of five percent. Hispanics have a jobless rate of 9.2 percent while blacks with the highest unemployment rate and the only double digit figure have been stagnant with a 13.3 percent jobless rate.
"He governs black people through symbolism and so they are very good with the cues to evoke the emotions for the civil rights movement or the perception that he's one of them when in reality what he's living is very little," said Swain.
For many black Americans, she added, Obama's high approval rating is: "All about race and in some ways it's about racism because they are not holding the president to the same standard they would hold a white person to."