Immigration isn't the only issue that represents a hurdle for Republicans hoping to improve their performance among Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, and other minority voters.
This week's United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll tested attitudes about two of the most incendiary issues now dividing the parties in Washington: health reform and gun control. While the survey found substantial convergence between whites and minorities on some fronts, it also underscored the consistent tendency of minorities to support a more activist role for Washington than many whites now prefer.
The gap was starkest on health care. Both whites and nonwhites were dubious of Republican threats to shut down the federal government, or default on the national debt, if President Obama does not agree to delay or defund his health reform plan. But minorities were especially resistant. While 33 percent of whites said Congress should withhold funding if Obama won't shelve the Affordable Care Act, only 16 percent of minorities agreed. And while whites divided relatively closely on whether Congress should raise the debt limit only if Obama concedes on health care—36 percent said yes and 48 percent said no—nonwhites stampeded against the idea by exactly 3-to-1. Minorities were also far more likely than whites (53 percent to 33 percent) to say they would blame Republicans if a shutdown occurs.
The contrast was even larger on the underlying issue of the health care law itself. A 51 percent majority of whites agreed that "Congress should repeal the program to expand coverage because the government can't afford it at a time of large budget deficits," while only 43 percent said "Congress should keep the program to expand coverage because it's important to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance." Minorities, by comparison, broke 2-to-1 in favor of the health care law: 62 percent said it was more important to expand coverage, while only 31 percent backed repeal.
All of this reinforces poll results from July in which only 27 percent of whites, but exactly twice as large a share of minorities (54 percent), said the law would benefit "people like you and your family." In that survey, just 16 percent of minorities urged the law's repeal, compared with 44 percent of whites. As The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted this week, other polls have recorded a similar disparity. These attitudes reflect the underlying reality that African-Americans and Hispanics were nearly twice and three times respectively as likely as whites to lack health insurance, as the Census Bureau reported earlier this month.
On gun violence, the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found broad public support that transcended racial, and in most cases partisan, lines for an all-of-the-above approach that included ideas traditionally favored by both the Left and the Right. Majorities of those surveyed said each of six approaches tested "would have a serious impact in reducing mass shootings."
But minorities embraced all of the ideas even more emphatically than whites, with the gap especially pronounced on initiatives topping the priority list for gun-control advocates. While whites split fairly closely on whether banning assault weapons could seriously reduce mass shootings (53 percent said yes, while 45 percent said no), minorities were unequivocal: 68 percent thought a ban would help, while only 29 percent disagreed. Just 47 percent of whites, compared with 67 percent of nonwhites, thought that limiting the size of ammunition clips would help. (While half of whites thought such limits would not have much impact, only one-third of minorities agreed.) There was broader agreement on the value of "background checks for all legal gun transfers, including those between private individuals," but minorities were particularly enthusiastic: Fully 84 percent of them said it would have an impact, while 72 percent of whites agreed.
This racial gap persisted, but only within single digits on approaches to gun violence mostly promoted by conservatives: minorities were slightly more likely than whites to consider it possible to reduce mass shootings through more mental-health services, tougher enforcement of existing gun laws, and more armed guards at schools and other public places. Asked what would do the most to reduce mass shootings, a plurality of minorities picked background checks, followed by better mental health services, and then a tie between the assault-weapon ban and more armed guards. Whites ranked as their preferences more mental health services, background checks, more armed guards, and tougher enforcement of existing gun laws.
Other fissures matter too in shaping attitudes toward gun violence: As the survey reaffirmed, women are consistently more likely to support gun-control measures than men. But the racial contrasts in attitudes loom as an even more powerful force in American politics—especially after an election in which support from four-fifths of minority voters allowed President Obama to triumph despite losing white voters by fully 20 percentage points, a much wider deficit than any previous winning candidate.
The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Sept. 19-22, interviewed 1,003 adults over landline and cell phones. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
This article appears in the September 27, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.