WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's status as the first black presidential candidate of a major political party has not influenced the perception of race relations in this country, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
Majorities of both whites and blacks agree the country is ready for a black president, but the consensus seems to end there.
The perceptions of Illinois Sen. Obama and his Republican challenger, Arizona Sen. John McCain, break along racial lines. The survey found that more than 80 percent of blacks said they had a favorable opinion of Obama, whose historic effort generated high levels of enthusiasm among blacks. But among whites, only about 30 percent said they viewed him favorably, the Times/CBS poll found.
Whites had a more positive view of the state of race relations than blacks, the survey found.
More than half of whites, 55 percent, said relations are good, a finding that was virtually unchanged from a survey conducted in 2000. But only 29 percent of blacks said the same thing, also about the same as eight years ago.
About a third of whites and almost twice as many blacks said relations are bad, about the same numbers for both groups who felt that way in 2000.
The latest results come as both candidates head into the final months of a groundbreaking campaign in which the race issue has been ever present.
Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, would become the nation's first black president if elected on Nov. 4.
The race issue has followed Obama throughout the campaign – from the videos showing his former pastor's condemnations of the U.S. and its policies, to a speech on race that he gave in Philadelphia to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's recent allegation that Obama was talking down to black people by urging them – black men in particular – to take more responsibility for their actions.
About two thirds of whites and roughly the same percentage of blacks feel that America is ready for a black president.
Overall, 31 percent of voters say race relations will improve if Obama is elected, a view supported by nearly half of black voters, 47 percent. But fewer whites, 29 percent, predict improvement in race relations during an Obama administration.
Among Hispanics, Obama has the edge over McCain.
He is viewed favorably by more than half of Hispanics, 53 percent, while McCain is viewed favorably by less than one-fourth, 23 percent. And on the issue of immigration, one-fourth of Hispanics said they have "a lot" of confidence in Obama's handling of the issue, compared to 14 percent for McCain.
The survey of 1,796 adults, including 297 blacks and 246 Hispanics, was conducted July 7-14. The overall survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; larger for subgroups.
Photo: Sen. Barack Obama