Stark Divide Between Blacks, Whites on Gun Control and Health Care

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds that contrasting racial attitudes loom as an ever more powerful force in politics.

A semi-automatic handgun and a holster are displayed at a North Little Rock, Ark., gun shop Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. A march by by advocates of open carrying of guns is planed for Saturday, Aug. 24, in Fort Smith, Ark.
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
Add to Briefcase
Ronald Brownstein
Sept. 26, 2013, 4 p.m.

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.

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