Blacks' Political Engagement Spikes, Though Racial Divisions Remain Deep

There are some differences on local issues within black groups; among them lower-income blacks are much more likely than those with middle or higher incomes to rate crime, drugs, teen pregnancy, single mothers and domestic violence as serious problems in their area.

Striking Differences in National Issues

On the national front, there are several issues on which blacks and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to desire top priority attention from the next administration. Those include poverty programs, the minimum wage, affirmative action, health care, education and criminal justice.

Some of these differences, again, are particularly striking.

Fifty percent of whites say the next administration should give its highest priority to health care issues; that jumps to 72 percent of blacks and Hispanics alike.

Education is similar – 50 percent of whites give it top priority, rising to seven in 10 blacks and Hispanics. And just 38 percent of whites give highest priority to poverty programs; that jumps to nearly two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics.

Hispanics, for their part, are much more apt than whites or blacks to cite immigration as a top priority. Nonetheless the agreement of most blacks and Hispanics on many of these issues may serve to diminish the notion of a so-called black-brown divide; the two groups have much in common on a range of issue concerns and priorities, if not all.

Indeed among all groups – blacks, whites and Hispanics alike – there's agreement on the single top issue, the economy. Seventy-six percent of whites, and 80 percent of blacks and Hispanics, say it should get the government's highest priority.

In another measure, the economy is by far the single most important issue in the presidential race, cited by just under four in 10 whites and Hispanics, and even more blacks, 50 percent. And in a gauge strongly influenced by economic discontent, three-quarters of whites and Hispanics, rising to 91 percent of blacks, say the country's "seriously off on the wrong track."

Affirmative Action

There are big racial differences on race-based affirmative action programs; support ranges from 76 percent of blacks to 57 percent of Hispanics and down to a third of whites.

But there's a way to reduce this divide: Majorities of all races support such programs if they're poverty-based rather than race-based. And majorities support either race- or poverty-based programs that give assistance, rather than preference, to their targeted constituencies.

Anywhere from 76 to 82 percent of blacks support any of these approaches to affirmative action. But among Hispanics, support swells from 57 percent to more than seven in 10 if the approach moves away from race-based preference.

And among whites the change is most dramatic: While just 33 percent support race-based preference programs, six in 10 favor poverty-based preference programs or race-based assistance programs, and more still favor poverty-based assistance programs.

Support for affirmative action peaks among blacks who've personally experienced racial discrimination; in this group 81 percent support race-based preference programs, compared with 62 percent of whose who haven't experienced discrimination.

All the same, affirmative action is not a top-tier issue. It was given highest priority by about three in 10 blacks and Hispanics and just 9 percent of whites – in all cases, far below other, more pressing concerns.

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