Byron York: Blacks Are Skewing Obama’s Poll Numbers

Black Americans are not a legitimate demographic in Byron York’s view:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Asked whether their opinion of the president is favorable or unfavorable, 49 percent of whites in the Times poll say they have a favorable opinion of Obama. Among blacks the number is 80 percent. Twenty-one percent of whites say their view of the president is unfavorable, while the number of blacks with unfavorable opinions of Obama is too small to measure.

Those opinion differences are clear in the traditional “right track-wrong track” question, a key indicator of the public’s mood. Thirty-four percent of whites say the country is headed in the right direction, while 56 percent believe it is “seriously off track.” For black Americans, 70 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, with just 23 percent saying it is off track. (According to the U.S. Census, blacks make up about 13 percent of the population, while whites make up about 80 percent. The Times poll divided respondents into black and white, with no other groups reported.)

He goes on and on like that. What he does not tell us is why African Americans’ overwhelming support for Obama mean his overall high approval numbers can’t be taken seriously.

Steve Benen’s scorching response is worth quoting in full:

‘ACTUALLY’…. I’ve read quite a few columns from Byron York over the years, first during his tenure at the National Review, and more recently as the chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner. I’ve seen plenty of commentary I strongly disagree with, but none has offended me quite as much as his latest column.

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are. [emphasis added]

For crying out loud, what the hell does that mean, exactly? I read the rest of the piece, hoping to see York explain why the president’s seemingly popular positions are exaggerated or inflated. Why, in other words, these positions “appear” more popular “than they actually are.”

But all the piece tells me is that African Americans tend to support Obama in greater numbers than white Americans.

The problem, of course, is that damn phrase “than they actually are.” York argues that we can see polls gauging public opinion, but if we want to really understand the popularity of the president’s positions, and not be fooled by “appearances,” then we have to exclude black people.

There’s really no other credible way to read this. York effectively argues that black people shouldn’t count. We can look at polls measuring the attitudes of Americans, but if we want to see the truth — appreciate the numbers as “they actually are” — then it’s best if we focus our attention on white people, and only white people.

Adam Serwer added, “This is another example of a really bizarre genre of conservative writing, which I call ‘If Only Those People Weren’t Here.’”

This is unacceptable.

More reaction at Memeorandum.


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  1. You're not trying to say that the school board in the Bronx is made up of racist country club Republicans, are you?

    No, I am not trying to say that. And there are many school boards in the Bronx, as in NYC as a whole. Every school district has its own school board.

    The NYC school system is a huge, massive, screwed up bureaucracy. Individual school board members do their best to advocate for the needs of the children in their district, but they are not the ones who make decisions about whether their schools are going to get what they need. They are not the power brokers. They are not the Board of Education; they are not the mayor or the city government. You have no idea how broken the school system is in NYC. I know a little bit about how broken it is, because I was trying to teach and get hired in that system for about six months. But I only have a tiny sense of it, really, because I was not in it for that long. I got a sense of it from my own experience, from what I saw while I was in it, from what other professional educators told me — classroom teachers and administrators with years of experience. I was on a NYC educators' mailing list — actually still am, but I don't participate in it anymore since I'm not teaching anymore. But all this is to say that the parents of the students I worked with, in the schools I worked in, for those six months or so, were not for the most part people who sat on the school board. You need years of experience in the schools — teaching, administrating, working with the community — to get a position on a school board. The parents of the students I worked with were much more likely to be recent immigrants, poorly educated themselves, struggling to survive economically in communities with all kinds of social dysfunction.

    And it's worth noting that whenever Republicans have tried to make that case, they're considered racist also for implying that any of the problems with poor education outcomes for black inner city kids might be connected with the internal problems of the communities themselves.

    No, that's not accurate, Christine. Nobody would consider it racist to say that the internal problems of inner-city communities affect the quality of education the children living in those communities get. That's not racist. What's racist is putting the onus for the community's internal problems entirely on the people who live in the community. Nothing is going to change for the better from Republicans acting like the internal problems of inner city communities are caused by the community. Of course, parents have some control over their own children, but it's individual parents' or families' fault that 50 percent or more of the population in the community is unemployed. It's not their fault that there are no decent jobs, or any jobs. It's not their fault that if they're lucky enough to be working, their work is most likely long hours for low pay and physically and emotionally exhausting. It's not the community's fault that a Republican president would rather pour hundreds of billions of dollars into multiple wars and military ventures in foreign countries than spend any significant part of that money on job creation, on job training, on economic relief, on helping communities pay for programs that will help solve their problems.

    That's why people like me get so angry at the mentality of Republicans and social conservatives who say the schools in the inner city are terrible because of internal problems in those communities and then wash their hands of it — as if those internal problems had nothing at all to do with the policies, legislative and spending priorities, etc., coming out of the places far far away from the inner city where all those rich white Republican country club racists actually do live and work.

  2. CStanley,

    First and foremost, leave the judgments at the front door. One thing that I saw so much is instant judging on the so-called “black way of life” by the GOP. Heck with that. The fact is that WE ALL go to work and raise our families the best we can. And don't use “I feel your pain”. Not going to work.

    What will work is a straight issues approach on the current public school system. When criticizing the political leadership (especially black political leadership) in the black community, show and explain how they have failed on the issues. If schools lack basic hygiene supplies (which some Detroit schools did/do), expose that for what it is: unacceptable for black children. Show the amount of frivolous dollars spent and show how they can be redirected to fix a public school's problem. So on and so forth.

    SHOW and EXPLAIN without being JUDGMENTAL. Black folks have deep attachments to public school in their neighborhoods. Don't say, “you need a voucher so you can pick a better school”. Show how you are willing to fight for their public school's improvement. Get in the mix and take on that black and white liberal establishment. By not being so judgmental and “scared of public schools”, you will earn respect. And respect breeds loyalty. I don't know how many times I've heard black parents say they are tired of white Republicans telling them to go to another school (preferably more white and suburban). Then they say, “why can't we fix up the schools in our neighborhood”. That's the in-roads Republicans. You have to get in their with the issues and the non-judgmental approach.

  3. jwest and TSteel- are you guys familiar with what's going on in New Orleans post-Katrina? Like the experiment you propose, jwest, they've wiped the slate clean and although it's not being done through vouchers, they've maximized school choice by creating a city wide system of open enrollment charter schools. It may prove to be the silver lining behind the destructive cloud of Katrina.

  4. Hmm, good suggestions, T, but it seems to me that the trust is so badly broken that I'm not sure that Republicans can even make those points about the waste, fraud and abuse that goes on and have the black residents believe them. I may be wrong but it seems to me that they sometimes have such entrenched trust of the liberal leaders and distrust of anyone else that they'll believe the liberal leaders over their own lyin' eyes.

  5. But here's the thing CStanley, many blacks in those areas say the exact same thing that you said about the waste, fraud, and abuse. Walk into a black barber shop and you'll hear SO many black folks just lay into school and political leadership. But they feel comfortable with those leaders because they are visible and put on a mask of caring (in my opinion). And when those suburban white Republicans start their usual “inner city judgment and condescending party”, black folks just circle the wagons led by the Black Democratic Establishment.

    Yes there is broken trust but it does not have to stay broken. Republicans need to get into the mix and hit the issues without judgment. I can't stress that enough. Vouchers are OK. But if the Republicans show (and not judge) the black community the PURE ISSUES that they are facing, they will gain support. And if someone in the GOP makes some stupid comment about black folks, put the smack down on them and stick with the issues approach. Don't get derailed by those black Democrats arguing the “they aren't one of us” angle. Just stick to your issues gun on fixing THOSE schools.

  6. OK, I mostly agree T, but letting down the judgment has to work both ways. I could be wrong but it seems to me that even if white GOP (pretty much redundant to say that, unfortunately) go about it without expressing the judgment, they're presumed to be judgmental anyway. And yes, there are always fools who really are bigoted who will make some remark- but the honest brokers who would want to try to make inroads are judged on the basis of those fools instead of on what they as individuals are actually saying.

  7. T,

    I don’t know what world you live in, but it sure ain’t the real one.

    “Go talk to the black community on issues” Yeah, that will do it. African Americans, like white liberals, think and act on emotion, not logic.

    If you want to be a hero, you need to give them a villain. When someone learns they’ve been lied to for the past 40 years, that the reason their children and grandchildren can’t read or write better than a 3rd grader, they are going to need a group to vent on.

    No, not cool logic and non-judgmental issue advocacy.

    Fire breathing, Sunday morning sermonizing about how the community was done wrong.

    If there is going to be a change (and isn’t that what everyone wants?), the change will be quick and complete. Not a logical progression, but a full-out torch-carrying, throw the bums out mob scene.

  8. Well your biased against “liberals” so your a brick wall on this issue jwest. And if you think conservatives don't act on emotion then you living in a different world as well.

    CStanley, I agree on the your works both ways point. I don't look at the black community as a lost cause for Republicans. Maybe because I've never associated with/work for either Dems or Repubs. I've work with the people (dare I say the dreaded “community organizing”). They are are a lot more receptive than many Republicans and conservatives give them credit for. One of the funniest things is to sit in a black church (not ran by the likes of Jeremiah Wright – an exception not the rule) when those politicians get “introduced”. There are just groans and muted applause many times. But they vote the name they know because of real and perceived slights by the GOP.

    I find it amazing how much of the black community is still a mystery to non-black folks. We get lumped into a rap music loving, Democratic party minion group. Many black folks hate rap music and many regular black folks (who vote Democratic Party) just do so out of habit.

  9. CStanley, I was wondering when somebody would bring up New Orleans. I wrote on this subject a lot in the year or two after Katrina, and once said:

    poor New Orleanians did not create the traps, and there were few avenues out. One cannot aspire to much beyond restaurant or hotel work with the equivalent of an 8th grade education in a tourism-based economy, yet that very economic base required a large population who would work at that level.

    In my mind, NOLA is the poster child for much of this discussion. It incorporates the very worst public schools with an entire city that offers almost no opportunity for the citizens it graduates from them. I nearly moved back there after Katrina, I wanted so badly to help rebuild — but I didn't see the will to do what needed to be done there.

    I suspect post-Katrina New Orleans has left an indelible mark on people like jwest (though I'm admittedly assuming) about just how badly a liberal approach, combined with cronyism and incompetent leadership, can fail.

  10. I was specifically talking about recent developments though, PM, of the charter school movement under the RSD. It's still an experiment in progress, but the folks I know who are living it are pleased so far and cautiously optimistic.

    As far as NO being the poster child, NO is certainly unique in a lot of ways but in regard to the schools, I think the only unique feature (as comparted to other urban school districts) is that there's almost no middle/upper class participation in the public school system. I grew up from middle school on there, and was fortunately able to get a top notch education at Ben Franklin (nationally ranked in top 10 college prep schools at that time.) But virtually everyone I knew who didn't go to Franklin (it has selective entrance requirements of IQ and test scores) went to a Catholic high school.

    In that sense, the pre-Katrina system was also the poster child for discussions about what happens when the public school system is abandoned by middle and upper class families. :(

  11. Oh dear. I wonder whether we're about to discover that we were classmates or something — because I, too, went to Ben Franklin.

    But being a poster child is the opposite of uniqueness, and I think that the withdrawal of the middle/upper classes from the system is merely a fillip.

    I was thinking (in terms of pre-K) of Kathy, T, and others' comments about the situational dynamics that underpin a school system's failure. To me, NOLA is an excellent example of the symbiotic relationship between a community, its opportunities (or lack thereof), deeply engrained poverty, dependence, and educational failure.

    If the charter schools experiments work (and I REALLY hope they do!!!!) — then it would go a very long way toward disconnecting the “inner city culture” causal factor arguments from inner city educational reform.

  12. No way! Small world, eh? I should have recognized it in your intellect and writing skills though.

    Without giving actual dates- I'm guessing we're at least close enough in age that you'd know Mr. Weyer, Diego Gonzales, and Mr. Keith? Or my personal fave- Mr. Felton (who allowed me to opt out of all testing and notebook checks to prep for the state rally in World History- which of course is not why he was one of my favorite teachers ;) )

  13. LOL!!! I refuse to say whether I remember any of these names, or whether we talked about them at the Burger King across the street during lunch. It's all a blur from such a distance…


  14. Ah, the BK lounge. Or Camellia Grill on rare occasions when flush with cash.

    I'm sure neither of us has any memory of Skip Day at the Butterfly (though I've heard rumors of about other students…)

    LOL, Good memories!

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