But even though minority respondents were tougher on young people’s motivations, they were also more optimistic about their long-term prospects. Continuing a head-turning pattern evident in other National Journal and Pew Research Center surveys, the Next America Poll found that African-Americans and Hispanics, by ratios well over 2-to-1, believe that “today’s children” will have more, rather than less, opportunity to get ahead than they do. Among whites, the proportions are inverted: more than twice as many whites believe that the next generation will have fewer, rather than more, opportunities than they do. College-educated whites—arguably the group at the apex of the economic pyramid—are even more pessimistic than whites without degrees. “The future doesn’t hold a great promise for the young,” said Peter Zanardi, a white advertising executive in Brentwood, N.Y. “Wages aren’t going up as necessary. And now they’re facing college debt as well.”
On the broadest measure of long-term expectations, minorities are again more optimistic than whites. One question reminded respondents of Census Bureau projections that “sometime in the next 40 years, racial minorities … will become a majority of the American population.” Almost half of Hispanics and African-Americans said that this will mostly “benefit America because these groups will bring new ideas and diverse perspectives to the nation’s values and traditions.” But only 22 percent of whites agreed. The largest group of whites (44 percent) said that the change won’t have much effect (34 percent of African-Americans and 27 percent of Hispanics agreed). But 29 percent of whites said that the change will mostly “hurt America because these racial minorities won’t uphold the nation’s values and traditions.” The negative sentiment was especially pronounced among the overlapping groups of white seniors, white men without a college degree, and white Republicans. Only 11 percent of African-Americans and 20 percent of Hispanics shared that attitude.
OBAMA VERSUS ROMNEY
All of these differences among racial groups come together in attitudes about government and the 2012 election. Three-fifths of African-Americans said that government doesn’t “provide enough of a safety net for people who need help to get by,” but only two-fifths of whites agreed. Half of whites (but less than one-third of blacks) said that “government taxes workers too much to fund programs for people who could get by without help.” Hispanics divided more closely but tilted toward worry about the safety net. Asked what would do the most to create economic opportunity for people like them, African-Americans decisively endorsed a Democratic-leaning agenda of public investment over a Republican-styled plan centered on tax cuts and deregulation; whites and Hispanics split much more narrowly toward the Democratic approach.
Overall, those polled approved of Obama’s performance, 48 percent to 40 percent. But while 90 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of Hispanics gave him positive marks, just 39 percent of whites concurred. (Only about one-third of whites without college degrees or white seniors approved.)
A chasm separated the races as well in a 2012 matchup between Obama and Romney. The poll found Obama leading among all registered voters by 50 percent to 42 percent. But the president attracted only 42 percent support among white voters, compared with 76 percent from all nonwhites, including 91 percent from African-Americans and 65 percent from Hispanics. Romney attracted just 17 percent of nonwhites, but 51 percent of whites.
Obama won nearly three-fifths of whites who said that the long-term demographic change would benefit America, and Romney won two-thirds of those who said it would hurt. Those results are another signal that as the Next America takes shape, attitudes about the nation’s changing racial composition are reinforcing the familiar ideological differences that divide the two parties—and fuel their intensely polarized competition.
William Friedman contributed
This article appears in the April 21, 2012, edition of National Journal.