President Barack Obama’s presidency was supposed to bring about unity and empower blacks to feel more free, but a new Washington University study has found that under Obama, blacks — conservatives and “born again” Christians in particular — feel less free politically than they did before Obama’s presidency.
Obama’s election, due to what is called the “empowerment effect,” initially made blacks feel more politically free but — like Obama’s promises of hope and change — those initial feelings have “faded” after 2009, the study found.
James Gibson, a Washington University professor of government and African-American studies who conducted the study, told US News that the debate over contraception and Obama’s coming out in support of gay marriage contributed to making blacks feel less empowered in the political arena. Many blacks, he noted, are socially conservative. In fact, the study found that 56% of blacks consider themselves “born again” and 39% consider identity as “somewhat conservative.”
Gibson told US News that because “race produces a level of trust and confidence that one is on your side,” many conservatives and religious blacks felt they would feel more free to express their opinions while the country had its first black president.
The study found, though, that under Obama, the “levels of perceived political freedom are lowest among blacks who identify as conservatives and who consider themselves ‘born again.'”
In 2007, 64% of blacks felt they felt “free as they used to” in “feeling free to speak one’s mind.” In 2009, the percentage who felt so increased to 71% before dipping to 56% in 2011.
“Black Americans are much less likely than whites to perceive that their government will allow them to engage in ordinary (but non-voting) forms of political participation,” Gibson writes in the story. “The election of a black American to the U.S. presidency did seem to empower African Americans, causing an increase in levels of perceived freedom. But that increase seems to have been epiphenomenal, with perceived levels of freedom after 2009 soon reverting to their prior level.”