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Dunsmore: Race Today

(Host)We are currently being inundated with election polls that often give conflicting information. But last weekend a poll was published which commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore found to be particularly notable.

(Dunsmore) During my career I covered elections in many parts of the world. Some were democratic - numerous others not so much. But in each case I would examine the country in question with the detachment of an outsider - looking for ways to explain its politics.

Old habits die hard and I still try to remain detached when observing the politics of this country. So this headline of just a few days ago immediately jumped out at me.

AP POLL: U.S. Majority Have Prejudice Against Blacks.

This was the lead sentence of this report. Racial attitudes have not improved since the United States elected its first black president an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.

This is not a political screed by one side of the current partisan political wars. The AP, as the creation of a large group of newspapers of all political stripes, by its very mandate is non partisan. This particular survey on race in American politics was conducted with researchers and scholars from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago.

This was its principal finding: 51 percent of Americans now express explicitly anti-black attitudes, compared with forty-eight percent in a similar survey in 2008. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black attitudes jumped to fifty- six percent.

This may not be good news, but it is not a surprise. Going back to the strident arguments between slave and non- slave holding states as the Constitution was being hammered out in 1787 - with the slave holders winning key concessions - race has been a major factor in the American political debate.

But with the election of the country's first black president four years ago, I was among those who expressed hope that the subject of race would truly begin to recede as a major political issue.

Shortly before the 2008 election, speaking to a Vermont Human Rights group I said that if candidate Barack Obama should win, it will be possible to argue that the issue of race has been transcended - because the biggest taboo in American politics will have been broken.

However, from the early effort to challenged the new president's birthplace and therefore his legitimacy, to the repeated subtle and not so subtle racial remarks of his opponents and critics designed to stir up old prejudices, it is clear that I was overly optimistic four years ago.

Jelani Cobb, professor of history and director of the Institute for African American studies at the University of Connecticut, has a wiser perspective. He said recently, We have this false idea that there is progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the way history has worked. When we've seen progress, we've also seen backlash.

This new AP survey provides the hard data to prove Professor Cobb's point.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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