The distinctiveness of the Obama generation was most evident when asked questions designed to get at subtler forms of prejudice — such as how much individuals think racial inequality is due to the failings of African Americans. Thus the Obama generation was less likely than other generations to agree with statements like “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.” When asked questions designed to measure overt prejudice — such as approval of interracial marriage — the Obama generation was certainly unlikely to express such attitudes, but not necessarily more so than at least some earlier generations.
To be sure, it is difficult to prove that Obama’s ascendance caused these generational differences in racial attitudes. But [political scientists Tatishe Nteta and Jill] Greenlee’s findings dovetail with other research that documented a decline in racial prejudice during the 2008 presidential campaign — suggesting that Obama’s rise may really affect how people perceive African Americans. It is too soon to know whether any generational changes will stick, or what will be true for future generations. But at this moment, the available evidence suggests, as Nteta and Greenlee put it, “a change is gonna come.”