Conservatives say the U.S. has done enough to create equality for blacks. Young liberals agree.

One last dip into a big Pew survey we've been discussing on the politics and policy views of Americans. Pew surveyed more than 10,000 adults earlier this year on topics ranging from their views of Hillary Rodham Clinton to taking the bus, and the report divides their responses along a set of political typologies that group respondents into generally coherent categories across the range of policy issues: i.e., the "business conservative," the "solid liberal," the young "next generation left."

Across that spectrum, there is not surprisingly wide disagreement on racial progress in America and the steps government still must take to achieve it. Most of the results on this chart are fairly predictable: Conservatives broadly believe that the government has pretty much done all it needs to to ensure equal rights for blacks. Liberals, with one striking exception, overwhelmingly disagree:

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 9.29.50 AM

The views of young, affluent liberals stand out. In fact, they align more closely with conservatives than other liberal groups. So what's going on here? Are younger liberals so far removed from the Civil Rights era that they've become disconnected from the memory of overt discrimination it sought to end? Perhaps this cohort, which strongly supports gay marriage, believes that the front in the fight for equality has moved on to new beneficiaries?

We know that the "next generation left" does support affirmative action (as do, notably, majorities of every typology other than the two most conservative):

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 9.36.47 AM

It's possible, though, that young liberals support affirmative action more as a means to create diversity than to redress discrimination. In this next chart, 68 percent of the "next generation left" believe that blacks themselves — and not discrimination — are mostly responsible for their own failure to get ahead:

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 12.49.55 PM

The vast gap between solid liberals and steadfast conservatives on this question is striking (these results also provide context to the widely divergent and passionate responses to Ta-Nehisi Coates' Atlantic cover story this spring making the case for reparations). But so too is the gap striking between solid liberals — a group that's highly educated, urban and well-off — and their younger "next generation" counterparts.

Another potential factor is that the "next generational left" is much more likely to say that government can't afford to do more to help the needy (56 percent) than solid liberals (12 percent). And so perhaps their views on what changes government might still make to create equality for blacks are colored by their skepticism that government can afford to do more.

Of course, another explanation is that the lifetime of younger liberals has encompassed less discrimination than their parents and grandparents saw. But evidence suggests that discrimination — even if we now see subtler forms of it — has by no means disappeared. A more revealing question might grant people the chance to answer that both discrimination and personal responsibility play a role, to varying degrees. Perhaps we'd see then that young liberals believe discrimination persists, just to a lesser degree than in the past.

If anyone else has theories on why their views on racial progress so starkly break with other liberals, please share.

Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Ylan Q. Mui · July 1