Demonstrators stand near a makeshift memorial for Michael Brown on Oct., 11 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Photo by Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty

Just 20% say race relations have improved in past few years


Amid episodes like the unrest over the summer in Ferguson, Missouri, how have American voters’ perceptions of race relations changed since Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president? The 2014 NBC News national exit poll found that voters are twice as likely to say that things have gotten worse than say they have improved.

RELATED: Missing from midterms: Ferguson

In the historic 2008 election, the exit poll asked voters how they thought race relations in this country would fare in the next few years. On balance, voters were optimistic as they elected Obama – 47% said they thought race relations would get better. Thirty-four percent thought they would stay about the same. Just 15% expected them to deteriorate.

This year’s exit poll asked the same question but retrospectively – how race relations have fared in the past few years. Just 1-in-5 voters see progress – 20% say race relations have improved, while nearly twice as many – 38% – say things have gotten worse. Another 40% see pretty much no change.

African-American voters were especially optimistic on the cusp of the Obama presidency – 59% expected race relations to get better. Today, just 18% of black voters feel the country has made progress on this front, while 44% say things have gotten worse.

A majority of Latinos also were optimistic about race relations six years ago, but only 21% feel that way today. Just under half – 44% – of white voters felt that race relations were likely to improve on the day Obama was first elected. Today, just 20% think race relations have improved.

Visit NBC News Decision 2014 for more exit poll results and election returns.