Thirty-nine percent of blacks say African-Americans are better off now than five years ago, according to the poll. In 2007, just 20 percent of blacks felt that way.
Fifty-three percent of African-Americans say the future will be better for blacks, and 10 percent say it will be worse. Three years ago, 44 percent of blacks said the future would be better, and 21 percent said it would be worse.
Obama's election is the obvious explanation for this optimism, especially considering the recent recession, said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.
"The poll shows a whole list of ways in which black attitudes are more positive than they were prior to President Obama's election," Kohut said. "When you have a big event like that, and all of the indicators are pointing in one direction, I think the conclusion is inescapable."
Even though the median black household income has declined relative to whites since 2000, 56 percent of blacks and 65 percent of whites say the difference in standard of living between the two races has narrowed, the poll found.
"Blacks are saying the income gap has narrowed, when in fact that is not the case," Kohut said. "It has something to do with the perception and the sense of things as more positive."
A majority of both blacks and whites say the core values of each group have grown more alike in the past decade.
Still, 81 percent of blacks say more changes are needed to ensure equality, compared with 36 percent of whites and 47 percent of Hispanics. The groups also continue to have divergent opinions on how much discrimination exists.
The poll found that Hispanics, not blacks, now are seen as the ethnic group facing the most discrimination. Twenty-three percent of all respondents say Hispanics are discriminated against "a lot," compared with 18 percent for blacks, 10 percent for whites and 8 percent for Asians.
Hispanics also are less optimistic than other groups about interracial relations. When whites and blacks were asked how well their group gets along with Hispanics, more than 70 percent say "very" or "pretty" well. In contrast, only about 50 percent of Hispanics feel the same way.
There have been a number of recent attacks on Latinos that advocates say are hate crimes fueled by anti-immigration rhetoric.
"My sense is that racism in this country seems to be pretty entrenched," said Carmen Febo-San Miguel, executive director of the Latino cultural center Taller Puertorriqueno in Philadelphia. She cited the beating death of a Mexican immigrant in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, that federal authorities have called a hate crime.
"We've all witnessed some of the efforts to combat racism, but at the same time, we still see ... this incredible violence, for the sole reason of being from a different race, being perpetrated against Latinos," she said. "You really wonder how deep these roots are buried and how difficult it is going to be to eradicate it."
Hispanics are much more likely to believe there is significant discrimination if they were born in the United States. Forty-eight percent of foreign-born Hispanics say there is "a lot" or "some" discrimination against their group; 79 percent of Hispanics born in America felt that way.
The poll also delved into how Americans perceive Obama. A stratospheric 95 percent of blacks still view Obama favorably, while 56 percent of whites view him favorably, down from 76 percent just before the inauguration.
This could be connected to blacks' and whites' different views about the economy, and the idea that blacks were hit hard by the recession but had much less to lose.
The percentage of whites who rate the economy as excellent or good has fallen from 42 percent to 7 percent since late 2006, the poll found. Among blacks, that percentage only fell from 16 percent to 14 percent.
Black political leaders criticized Obama last month for not doing enough specifically to help unemployed blacks. In the poll, 80 percent of blacks say he is paying the right amount of attention to blacks. Thirteen percent of blacks say he is paying too little attention, and 1 percent say too much.
Twenty-two percent of whites and 42 percent of Hispanics say Obama is not paying enough attention to their respective groups.
The poll of 2,884 people, including 812 blacks and 376 Hispanics, was conducted by landline and cellular telephone from Oct. 28 to Nov. 30, 2009. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points for the entire group, 3.5 percentage points for whites, 4.5 percentage points for blacks and 7.5 percentage points for Hispanics.