January 21, 2009

Who Expects To Gain — And Lose — Under Obama

More Americans say that people like themselves will gain influence under the Obama administration than was the case for the last two incoming presidents. An analysis finds that those who think they will gain under the new president includes groups that overwhelmingly supported Obama last November, but also many that did not — including pluralities of all whites and white evangelical Christians.

In the latest Pew Research survey, conducted Jan. 7-11, 47% said that people like themselves would gain influence under Barack Obama, 18% said they would lose influence, and 29% said they would not be affected. The survey found that overwhelming majorities of African Americans (79%) and other core Democratic groups said that people like themselves would gain influence under the new administration.1

But by nearly two-to-one (41% to 22%), more whites said they will gain rather than lose influence under Obama; 32% of whites say they will not be affected. White voters supported John McCain over Obama by 55% to 43%, according to exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool.

White evangelical Protestants were one of McCain’s strongest groups last November; 74% supported McCain, while 24% backed Obama. Yet 37% of white evangelicals say that people like themselves will gain influence under Obama, compared with 31% who say they will lose influence and 27% who say they will not be affected.

The two groups in which pluralities said that people like themselves will lose influence under Obama were McCain voters and Republicans. About four-in-ten McCain voters (42%) said they would lose influence, 34% said they would not be affected, while 19% said they will gain influence. The balance of opinion is similar among Republicans (41% lose, 29% unaffected, 24% gain).

For Bush, Different Winners and Losers

In January 2001, as George W. Bush took office, 35% felt like they would gain under the new president, 26% said they would lose, and 33% said they would be unaffected. In January 1993, 43% felt like they would gain under Bill Clinton’s administration, 22% said they would lose, and 27% felt they would unaffected.

As might be expected, people’s opinions about whether they would gain or lose influence under the incoming president were very different eight years ago. Core GOP groups, especially Republicans (60%) and Bush voters (59%) said they would gain influence; by contrast, 47% of Gore voters and nearly as many Democrats (44%) said they would lose influence.

While a large majority of African Americans (79%) now see people like themselves gaining under Obama, just 30% said they would gain under Bush eight years ago, while 48% said they would lose influence. By more than three-to-one (51% to 14%), religiously unaffiliated people believe they will gain rather than lose influence under Obama. In January 2001, just 20% of the religiously unaffiliated said they would gain under Bush; 42% said people like themselves would lose influence.

Somewhat more whites say people like themselves will gain influence under Obama than expressed that view in January 2001 regarding Bush (41% vs. 35%). Hispanics, on balance, said they would gain influence under Bush, but a far greater percentage of Hispanics today believe that people like themselves will benefit under Obama (66% today vs. 38% in January 2001).

Young Americans were fairly optimistic about their prospects under Bush eight years ago. Four-in-ten (40%) of those younger than 30 said they would gain influence while 26% said they would lose influence. Young people are much more optimistic today: fully 62% believe they will gain influence under Obama, while just 15% say they will lose influence.

Wealthy people ranked near the top of the list of self-described “winners” under Bush, but they take a more measured view of their futures under Obama. By nearly three-to-one (41% to 14%), people with annual family incomes of $100,00 or more said that people like themselves would gain rather than lose influence under Bush. By a smaller margin (31% to 23%), more people with incomes of at least $100,000 say they will gain, not lose, influence under Obama.


1. “Strong Confidence in Obama — Country Seen as Less Politically Divided,” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Jan. 15, 2009.