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
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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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