US race relations plummeted during Joe Biden's final year as vice president, 2016 poll reveals

While the Obama presidency generated high hopes over race relations in the initial period, things were not so rosy towards the end

                            US race relations plummeted during Joe Biden's final year as vice president, 2016 poll reveals
Joe Biden (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s administration has come under heavy criticism in the wake of the pro-Black protests that have broken out after the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has also been critical of Trump over his handling of race relations and presented himself as one who can ease the tensions and unify the country. But past studies have shown that race relations were not too rosy when Biden served as the vice president under the presidency of Barack Obama (2001-09), especially in the second term.

Biden, 77, supported the demonstrations in May and June after Floyd’s death in police custody. He also met Floyd's family and wrote in a tweet on June 10 that he is ready to get to work on "day 1" to tackle racist issues. He also promised to "heal the racial wounds" that have plagued the US for a long time. At an economic round table, the former veep said: "This is a battle for the soul of America. Who are we? What do we want to be? How do we see ourselves? What do we think we should be? Character is on the ballot here."

However, things were less than perfect when Biden was in the White House. According to a report by the Pew Research Center poll published in November 2008, more than 52 percent of voters were of the opinion that a Black president coming to power in the US for the first time would improve race relations. Only 9 percent felt the race relations would get worse while 35 percent said it would not make any difference. 

But in July 2016, when Obama was just a few months away from completing his second and final term, nearly 70 percent of Americans said race relations were bad — something not seen since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles following the police brutality against Rodney King, a poll conducted by New York Times/CBS News​ published at that time revealed. According to the survey, six in 10 American voters felt race relations were getting worse, compared to 38 percent who said the same the year before. 

Irony lies in the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement started blossoming around the same time (2013) the race relations started worsening. 

A man holds a Black Lives Matter sign as a police car burns during a protest on May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia (Getty Images)

We are not as divided as we seem: Obama

It was also around the same time that Obama said at the police personnel’s memorial service that “we are not as divided as we seem”.

“We cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid,” the former president said, adding: “We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your White friends and co-workers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts.”

The July poll the same year showed a big difference in how White and Black people perceive race. While it said that three-quarters of the Black people said the cops are more likely to apply deadly force on an African-American compared to a White, only 18 percent of Black people felt that skin color made little difference. 
When the same issue came up in connection with the Trump era, a Gallup survey held in January 2020 showed a 14-percentage point rise in public satisfaction over the state of race relations in the US. While only 22 percent were satisfied over the race relation at the end of the Obama era, it went up to 36 percent in January, months ahead before the GOP president’s first term concluded. 

Satisfaction also went up between six to nine points over the position of Black people and other racial minorities in January, as per the poll. Trump and his aides in the White House showed the historically low unemployment rate among the Black people as the reason why attitudes on race were positive at that point of time.