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Media Spins Survey to Find Racial Divide Between Obama, Whites

This past weekend, the major newspapers in the Tribune company chain, including the Sun-Sentinel, ran this article, originally from the Los Angeles Times, about how Obama is "fast losing white voters' support."

And judging by the mostly white tea party types who've been heckling Democrats at health care town halls and who tune in to Glenn Beck, it does seem like Obama's losing ground among whites. But then, we have to be careful about being misled by the saturation coverage that those demonstrations have gotten in the press.

The article draws its conclusions from this report by the Pew Research Center. As you can see, there were a whole bunch of demographic categories to choose from, so isn't it curious that for a poll about the first black president's performance, the reporter plucked out the statistic about white opinions?

Yes, Obama's approval has fallen more among whites than the other two racial groups -- but only slightly. Specifically, it's fallen 11 percent compared to 10 percent among nonwhites. Or, 11 percent among whites compared to 10 percent overall. A 1 percent difference in a poll that claims a margin of error of plus or minus two points. Virtually meaningless.

The article doesn't bother mentioning that essential bit of context. It says only:

Among white Democrats, Obama's job approval rating has dropped 11 points since his 100-days mark in April, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. It has dropped by 9 points among white independents and whites over 50, and by 12 points among white women -- all groups that will be targeted by both parties in next year's midterm elections.
If there's a statistically valid racial trend, it's that black respondents are more patient with Obama -- their approval fell by just 3 percent. But their faith isn't very surprising or even very interesting. If there's a race-related story based on this research, it's that Obama has lost support among all racial groups -- not just whites -- and that he's slipped less among blacks.

To say that whites specifically have turned against Obama is misleading, if not false. And it's pretty sad that so many editors from major metropolitan dailies printed it without taking a more critical look at the research that was the basis for its flimsy argument.

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Thomas Francis

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