Poll Findings Challenge Ideas of Economic Impact on Political Attitudes, Behavior

Todd Shields, director of the Diane D. Blair Center of Politics and Society.
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Todd Shields, director of the Diane D. Blair Center of Politics and Society.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Recent news reports suggest that the economic recession may have hurt some groups more than others, particularly African Americans and Latinos. The findings from a poll conducted by two University of Arkansas System entities indicate that while unemployment rates are substantial among African Americans and Latinos, these groups still have surprisingly optimistic views of their economic future. 

On the heels of the 2012 presidential election, the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service partnered to conduct a comprehensive online national poll of political attitudes and behaviors.

Todd Shields, director of the Blair Center, addressed questions of economic and political attitudes across race and region in the latest analysis of results from the Blair Center-Clinton School Poll. His report, “Economy Across Race and Region: Unemployment fails to dampen positive outlook among African Americans and Latinos” was released today and may be found at the poll’s website.

The poll’s data shows that while African Americans in the South have been hit hardest by economic factors since the recession, they are by far the most positive group when compared to southern whites, non-southern whites and non-southern African Americans. Conversely, whites in the South, who have been hurt least by the economic downturn, are the least optimistic of the four groups.

“These findings challenge long-held assumptions about the impact of the economy on political attitudes and behaviors and may require scholars and political strategists to reconsider previous approaches during future elections,” said Shields. “The findings also suggest that regional differences between and across racial groups continue to be an important reality of contemporary American politics. Despite claims that the South is no longer distinct, there remain substantial differences in the effects and perceptions of the negative economy.”

The 2012 Blair Center-Clinton School Poll oversampled participants from the southern region of the United States, as well as oversampling African Americans and Latinos, providing unique perspectives on contemporary politics. With more than 3,600 respondents from across the nation, the poll provides a comprehensive and uniquely accurate perspective on how the country evaluates public figures and current public policies – and how these evaluations vary across race and geographic region. This is the second national poll conducted by the Blair Center. Following the 2010 midterm elections, the Blair Center also conducted a national survey with oversamples of African Americans and Latinos, giving researchers the ability to compare attitudes across time.

“In 2010, southern whites reported 10 percent unemployment, compared to 9 percent in 2012,” said Shields. “It isn’t a big difference, but it’s moving in a positive direction. Further, in 2010, only 18 percent of southern whites reported that they were ‘worse off’ a year earlier, while in 2012, 30 percent reported being ‘better off’ now than they were in the previous year. Overall, unemployment improved slightly and more southern whites reported that they are doing better financially now compared to the previous year. Regardless, the percentage of southern whites who believe their financial situation will get worse over the next year rose from 27 percent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2012.”

Unemployment percentages are based on respondents who reported that they were “temporarily laid off” and those who were “looking for work.” They do not include those who reported not working due to “disability,” “retirement” or “other” reasons.   

“The story is the opposite for southern African Americans,” said Shields. “Their unemployment rate went from 15 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2012. Additionally, the percentage of southern African Americans who said they were ‘better off’ financially last year increased from 19 percent in 2010 to 29 percent in 2012. Despite increases in unemployment and decreases in personal finances, southern African Americans expressed considerable optimism about their future financial situation.  

“In 2010, 43 percent of southern African Americans reported that they believed they would be ‘better off’ next year. In 2012, 52 percent reported that they would be ‘better off’ next year. By 2012, not only did southern African Americans report the greatest increase in economic expectations since 2010, they were the most positive of all the groups, even when compared to African Americans living outside of the South.”

The full report contains comparisons among southern whites, non-southern whites, southern African-Americans, non-southern African Americans, southern Latinos and non-southern Latinos.

“While African Americans, overall, are optimistic about their future economic situations, even in the face of negative unemployment and retrospective evaluations, it is southern African Americans who are uniquely optimistic about their economic conditions in the coming year,” said Shields, who also serves as dean of the University of Arkansas Graduate School and International Education.

Additional reports from the Blair Center-Clinton School Poll will be released throughout the year. Future topics include immigration and opinions of African American voters and South vs. non-South attitudes. For more information about the Blair Center-Clinton School partnership, please visit poll website.

About the Partners:

The Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society was established in 2001 by an act of U.S. Congress. This research center was named in honor of Diane Divers Blair who taught in the political science department of the University of Arkansas for 30 years. The Blair Center reflects her academic model and strives to approach the study of the American South from a variety of angles, attempting to reveal the undercurrents of politics, history and culture that have shaped the region.

The nation’s seventh presidential school, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service is the first school in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service (M.P.S.) degree, giving students the knowledge and experience to further their careers in the areas of nonprofit, governmental, volunteer or private sector service. Additionally, the mission of the Clinton School’s Center on Community Philanthropy, directed by Charlotte Williams, is to promote issues and research into community-based philanthropy and its role in generating social, economic and political change.


Ben Beaumont, director of communications
Clinton School of Public Service
501-454-2779, bbeaumont@clintonschool.uasys.edu

Darinda Sharp, director of communications
School of Law
479-575-7417, dsharp@uark.edu

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