While blacks, whites and Hispanics agree that racial discrimination persists in America, half of blacks and majorities of whites and Hispanics are opposed to racial preferences as an antidote, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
The poll, and particularly its finding on the issue of preferences, is certain to fuel the political argument over affirmative action programs, which were spawned by the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
President Clinton, in his weekend speech on race relations, acknowledged the shortcomings of affirmative action programs, but he challenged opponents to come up with a workable alternative.
But the survey released Tuesday suggested that even minorities may no longer support affirmative action programs with the same enthusiasm as they once did.
The national survey found that 49.8 percent of blacks disapprove of “preferential treatment” for minorities, while 42.5 percent approve. Among whites, 83 percent disapprove, while 15.3 percent approve. And among Hispanics, 53.8 percent disapprove, 41.9 percent approve.
David Bositis, a senior researcher for the Joint Center, the nation’s leading think tank on minority issues, attributed the finding to generational differences, particularly among African Americans.
“Older blacks came out of the 1960s with a sense of optimism over all the new programs that emerged, only to lose it as things did not improve dramatically,” Bositis said at a briefing Tuesday for reporters.
In fact, young blacks support preferential treatment, 54.9 percent to 42.9 percent, while black baby boomers, those of the same generation as President Clinton, oppose it, 64.2 percent to 32.3 percent, according to the survey.
The survey also found that older blacks are more likely to believe that race relations in the United State are getting worse, while two out of three blacks ages 18 to 25 think race relations are improving.
This contrasts with a Gallup Organization survey released last week, which found that blacks under age 25 felt that race relations would always be a problem in this country, while those over 65 were more likely to say things would be worked out.
The optimism of young blacks, as surveyed by the Joint Center, was especially striking to former Gov. William Winter of Mississippi, a member of the commission recently appointed by President Clinton to study race relations in America over the next year.
“We’ve got to make certain their expectations are realized,” said Winter, who was on hand for the press briefing. “If we don’t listen to (young blacks), we’re going to be in serious trouble.”
The survey found near universal agreement among African Americans (96.4 percent) and Hispanics (86.8 percent) that discrimination against blacks remains common today.
Likewise, 76 percent of whites believe racial discrimination is still common, though that belief is strongest among white Americans under the age of 35 (86.8 percent).
Eddie Williams, the Joint Center’s president, suggested that such agreement could benefit President Clinton’s commission.
But Bositis noted that “there is a fairly significant reluctance on the part of white Americans to do much about racism … to make a commitment to do something about what everybody agrees is there.”
The study found that 82 percent of blacks believe there is not enough attention paid to discrimination against Hispanics.
A smaller percentage of Hispanics, 68 percent, believe more attention should be paid to discrimination against them, while only 41 percent of whites agreed with the statement.
About 55 percent of blacks surveyed believed that blacks who can’t get ahead in the U.S. are mostly responsible for their own condition. Among whites, 52 percent agreed with that statement, and 51 percent of Hispanics agreed with the supposition.
The national survey, conducted in March and April, involved 1,702 adults consisting of three groups: a national general population sample of 850, a national sample of 850 African Americans and a national sample of 100 Hispanics.
Eighty blacks and 18 Hispanics in the general population sample were also part of the black and Hispanic samples. The survey has a margin of error of 4 points.