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Hopes Buoyed on Race, Poll Finds

WASHINGTON - While some of the soaring optimism of Election Day has tempered, more than six in 10 Americans predict in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll that Barack Obama's presidency will improve race relations in the United States in the years ahead.

Four in 10 say it already has.

As the anniversary of his election approaches, the mood of the recession-battered nation continues to be generally glum: By 3-1, those surveyed say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country, and Obama's job-approval rating is a middling 50 percent.

Even so, a solid majority of blacks and whites say race relations will get better as a result of his presidency; just 13 percent say they will get worse. By 41 percent-22 percent, those surveyed say race relations have improved rather than worsened since Election Day.

"A breakthrough like that - it shows to a certain extent that the majority of the population is open to the idea that a biracial person could (be) the most powerful person in the United States," says Chris Weber, 60, a teacher and writer from Portland who is white. He was among those called in the poll.

Barbara Gregory, 49, an electronic technician from Philadelphia who is black, says Obama's election may have made it easier for individuals to "look at it from each other's point of view."

To be sure, race remains a flashpoint and a divide. Blacks are much more likely than whites to say that racism against blacks persists - 72 percent of blacks say it is widespread, compared with 49 percent of whites - but they are also more optimistic that Obama's election will improve that.

A 53 percent majority of African Americans say race relations already have gotten better as a result.

There has been some recalibration of the euphoric expectations expressed in a USA TODAY survey taken the day after the election, on Nov. 5, 2008. Then, 28 percent predicted race relations would get "a lot" better, compared to 15 percent now. Forty-two percent said they would be "a little" better, compared to 46 percent now.

A year ago, a record 67 percent said race relations one day would no longer be an issue in the United States. Now that's dropped to 56 percent, a tick higher than in Gallup polls taken before Obama seemed poised to win the Democratic nomination.

"I really don't think that him being president is going to shift it one way or the other," says Jonathan Tesch, 23, a college student from Winter Park, Fla., who is white. He says the attention paid to Obama's race could reinforce a sense "that there are different categories that people are getting shoved into."

There are some encouraging signs, however.

Over the past year, the percentage who say blacks have as good a chance as whites in their community to get a job for which they are qualified has risen by 8 percentage points. That's the biggest one-year jump since Gallup began regularly asking the question 20 years ago.

In a separate daily survey by Gallup, the assessments by African Americans of their standards of living and their prospects for the future spiked with Obama's election and have remained high even as unemployment has worsened.

"Having a president that one believes in may just lead people to have a much sunnier outlook," says Gallup Managing Editor Jeff Jones.

The USA TODAY poll, taken Friday through Monday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample of 1,521 adults, 4 points for the subsample of 933 non-Hispanic whites and 6 points for the subsample of 408 blacks.

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