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Have Race Relations Improved Under Obama?

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., responds to a warm welcome from the audience as he approaches the microphone during a South Carolina victory party in Columbia, S.C. Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In 2008, the historic election of Barack Obama, the nation's first African American president, spawned a plethora of hopes and dreams in the hearts and minds of a great many. Among these ideals was the aspiration that the nation's race relations would improve.

Now, two years and seven months after the president took office, polls indicate that the American people don't see major advances in this arena.

A new poll taken by USA Today/Gallup and released on Wednesday found that 35 percent of the nation believes that race relations have improved since Obama took office. Certainly, some would see this as a major victory in the battle for better interracial relations, but this proportion is actually down from the 41 percent that was found back in October 2009 (just months after Obama became president).

This isn't good news on the racial relations improvement front, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. It's not as though people necessarily see racial tensions as devolving and intensifying. Politico has more:

The proportion of Americans who see race relations getting worse has essentially stayed the same, with 23 percent of those surveyed saying relations have gotten worse, compared with 22 percent who said the same two years ago.

While the situation certainly isn't as bad as it could be, Americans had high hopes back in 2008. Gallup reports that one day after Obama secured the white house, 70 percent of Americans predicted that race relations would improve as a result of his presidency. Earlier that year, only 56 percent of Americans reported the same beliefs, thus there was substantial growth in this sentiment.

It's not as though the president hasn't tried to address these issues. Remember the infamous "Beer Summit" back in 2009? For a refresher, watch the CBS report, below:

Back in 2008 -- just one year before the "summit" -- 65 percent of blacks believed there would be improvements as did 54 percent of whites. These proportions have dropped to 48 percent and 31 percent, respectively, showcasing the lowered expectations that are present among both groups.

But, differences don't only exist between ethnic groups. While 46 percent of Democrats perceive improvements in race relations, only 19 percent of Republicans feel the same. When it comes to the belief that Obama's election was a milestone for African Americans, opinions have also shifted. Gallup has more:

The poll also finds a decline in perceptions of Obama's election as one of the most important advances for U.S. blacks in the last 100 years: 42% say this today, fewer than the 58% who said so in 2009, and the 71% right after his election.

The decline is evident largely among whites, dropping nearly 20 percentage points from 56% in 2009 to 37% today, compared with a 6-point decline among blacks, 71% to 65%.

There's no definitive explanation for these findings, but they do seem to illustrate a nation that does not view race relations as having improved to the degree citizens once hoped. What do you think? How have race relations been impacted by Obama's election and presidency? Take the poll, below:

One last thing…
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