Q&A: Black-White Relations in the U.S., Part II

by Jack Ludwig, Senior Staff Writer

On May 13, 2003, Frank Newport, editor in chief of The Gallup Poll, and Jack Ludwig, director of research for Gallup Poll Social Audits, presented results from the most recent "Black-White Relations in the U.S." survey in a Web summit. Following are two more of the questions asked by summit participants, with Ludwig's responses.

Q. Now that blacks are no longer the largest minority in this country, is there an affinity of blacks for other minorities, such as Hispanics or Asians, or do blacks look at other minorities as competitors for limited resources such as jobs or services?

A. We have not asked people specifically about feelings of competitiveness toward other racial or ethnic minorities in any of our social audits of black-white relations in the United States. Nevertheless, in our 2001 survey we did ask respondents to rate their feelings of "closeness" to several groups -- including Asians and Hispanics -- on a 10-point scale (where 10 = "extremely close" and 1 = "not at all close").

As might be expected, blacks expressed the greatest closeness toward their own racial group (average closeness score = 8.6), but the closeness ratings among whites, Asian Americans, and Hispanics showed some differences. Blacks felt equally close to whites and Hispanics (average closeness score of 6.2), but they expressed less closeness toward Asians (average closeness score of 4.9). By way of comparison, white respondents in our 2001 survey expressed greatest closeness to their own racial group (average score = 8.7), somewhat less closeness toward blacks (average score = 6.7) and least closeness to Hispanics (average score = 6.1) and Asian Americans (average score = 5.8).

Q. What is the consensus on interracial dating and marriage among blacks and whites?

A. Although the past several decades have witnessed dramatic changes in opinion on this issue -- particularly among white Americans -- public opinion is still too divided to permit description as a consensus. In our 1997 social audit of black-white relations in the United States, we asked both black respondents and white respondents, "Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between blacks and whites?" In that survey, 64% of all respondents said they approved of interracial marriage (61% of white respondents and 77% of black respondents). Even though this level of approval falls short of a consensus, and shows significant divergence of opinion between black Americans and white Americans, it is a much higher level of approval (and a narrower gap between black opinion and white opinion) than we measured 20 years ago. In 1983, overall approval of interracial marriage was 20 percentage points lower (at 43%), and the gap between levels of approval was twice as large (38% of whites approved, compared to 71% of blacks).

Attitudes toward marriage between blacks and whites are dramatically different across age groups. Teens surveyed in Gallup's periodic youth polls are remarkably more approving of interracial marriage than adults are. When adult approval stood at 64% in 1997, approval among 13- to 17-year-olds was at 83%. In this same teen survey, 17% of white teens said they had dated a black person and 44% of black teens said they had dated a white person. When those who had not had an interracial dating experience were asked whether they would ever consider interracial dating, 55% of white teens said they would consider dating a black person, and 61% of black teens said they would consider dating a white person.

Even among adults, age is a major factor in attitudes toward interracial marriage. Gallup's most recent asking of this question was in 2002, in a poll of 1,360 U.S. adults. In that survey, 65% of Americans approved of marriage between blacks and whites, but differences in opinion by age group were striking. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, approval stood at 86%, but it dropped to 75% among 30- to 49-year-olds, 53% among 50- to 64-year-olds, and all the way to 30% among those aged 65 and older. Thus, although it is not a certainty, there is a good chance that overall approval of interracial marriage among American adults will continue to rise in the coming years, as older, more disapproving Americans are replaced by younger, more approving ones.

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