"The fact that he is the first black president does have a powerful impact on people's perception of their opportunities and the future," said Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program for the Economic Policy Institute. "It is kind of hard to separate that from the other facts."
Who's to blame?
Sixty percent of whites placed "a lot" of blame with the federal government for the economic challenges facing the country. Fewer faulted Wall Street or overeager consumers.
Jim Karney, 69, a white San Antonio resident who runs a small refurbishing business, has lost faith in Washington. After surviving the recession, he said he is now bearing the brunt of surging energy and material costs.
"The prices of the materials I use in my business are going up," he said. "I blame Congress for this 150 percent. This economy was their creation.
"The 535 people in Washington, D.C., created this. There is an incestuous collusion of Congress, Wall Street and lobbyists."
Whites - who are far more likely to identify as Republicans than Hispanics and African Americans - were also the most critical of the Obama administration's performance on the economy.
Most whites said the Obama administration is doing "too little" for their families and not enough for the middle class, working-class Americans and small businesses. They were about twice as likely as were African Americans and Hispanics to say the administration is doing "too much" for Wall Street financial institutions.
By a 2 to 1 margin, whites saw the president's economic program as harming the struggling national economy. By contrast, Hispanics were nearly 3 to 1 the other way, and African Americans overwhelmingly said they think Obama's plan is improving the economy.
Whites sided with the GOP over the Democratic Party by an 11-point margin when it comes to identifying the party that better understands people's economic concerns. Democrats had a 27-point advantage among Hispanics, and that swelled to a 60-point lead among African Americans.
The poll was conducted by telephone from Jan. 27 to Feb. 9 among a random national sample of 1,959 adults. The margin of sampling error for the African American and Hispanic samples is plus or minus six percentage points; it is four points for the sample of white respondents.
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Polling manager Peyton Craighill and staff writer Krissah Thompson contributed to this report.