In Prince George's County, a substantially greater percentage of black residents than white residents believe their life is better there than it would be if they lived elsewhere in the metropolitan Washington area.
Of 1,048 county residents interviewed in a recent poll by The Washington Post, 36 percent felt Prince George's was a better place to live than other Washington suburbs or the District of Columbia, while 26 percent thought it was worse.
Among blacks queried, 49 percent felt Prince George's was better, compared with 29 percent of whites.
One in three whites polled thought Prince George's suffered in area-wide comparison while only one in six blacks felt that way.
"Since I have seen them all, I know this is the best place," said Tony Brandon, a mover who lives in Oxon Hill and is black. "It's the environment, I mean . . . it's clean . . . it's excellent." Brandon said he lived in New York, New Jersey and Northwest Washington before he moved to Oxon Hill 12 years ago.
Prince George's black population jumped from 13 percent in 1970 to 37 percent in 1980, making it the most racially integrated jurisdiction in the Washington metropolitan area. County political leaders say black residents are slowly realizing that their growing numbers give them political clout, power they share with other racial groups in the county.
"Balanced" is the word blacks used most to describe why they like Prince George's.
"If it's more balanced as far as minorities, it creates a distribution of political power as opposed to an all-black area or a majority white area," said Samuel Perry, a black police officer who lives in Oxon Hill.
Perry said he developed a preference for "balance" growing up during the 1950s in the Michigan Park area of Northeast Washington, where whites of Italian and Irish descent lived alongside Jews and blacks.
Michigan Park has since become predominantly black, with many whites leaving the area during the early 1960s for suburbs, including Prince George's.
"I'd like my kids brought up in a well-rounded community where they can relate to all kinds of races," said Perry, who said he prefers Prince George's to Fairfax County, which is 85.4 percent white and where he lived until six years ago.
Perry and other residents were selected at random for the telephone poll, taken July 9-11, and asked a number of questions about life in Prince George's.
In interviews that followed the poll, blacks tended to talk more about balance, good surroundings and various improvements over city living, while whites spoke more about crime, declining schools and high taxes as sources of discontent.
Higher income whites liked Prince George's the least. Of 74 whites with incomes of more than $50,000 polled, 30 said Prince George's was worse than other jurisdictions as a place to live, while only 7 of 37 blacks in that income bracket felt that way.
Among single whites polled, 42 percent said Prince George's was "not as good" as other localities. In general, younger whites felt more strongly than their elders that Prince George's did not hold much of a future for them.
"The quality of police protection, the schools and education," headed the list of negatives for 30-year-old Bill Peterson, a white resident of Cheverly.
"I think the surrounding areas are better, but I'm forced to live here now because other areas are too expensive," said Peterson, a printer.
Peterson has two young children, one of them entering public school this fall, and his wife is expecting a third. Only high interest rates on home loans have stopped him from selling his house in Cheverly, he said.
If he moved, Peterson would join 174,000 whites who left Prince George's during the 1970s, many of whom went to the outer suburban counties of Anne Arundel, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's.
Some longtime white residents who were critical of Prince George's County traced their disappointment to changes there over the last 15 years.
"I was raised in Prince George's County; so was my wife," said Ronald Pounsberry, who lives in a rural area near the county seat of Upper Marlboro.
"We've seen it go to hell. The roadside is filthy." Pounsberry works for the telephone company maintaining cables when he is not working his small family farm.
Pounsberry felt that his taxes have skyrocketed, despite a property tax cap that has reduced Prince George's tax rate nearly a third over the last five years.
He said that he never goes to Landover Mall, the largest shopping center in his area, because, "I've had friends have their purses snatched" there.
Pounsberry said he felt that the Prince George's of his youth was slowly becoming like the "slums" of predominantly black Southeast Washington, where he sometimes does telephone work. He estimated that the 15-year-old Kettering housing development in Largo, a few miles from his home, has become 90 percent black. The Kettering area is about 50 percent black, according to 1980 census figures.
"I'm not a racist-type person, I've got a good many black friends," Pounsberry said. "But I see those slums coming out here. The county has lost it's beauty and tranquility."
Not all whites were as critical. For some, discontent stemmed not so much from a feeling that Prince George's is a bad place to live, but from a perception that it has no prestige.
"It's hard to combine all the pros and cons," said a married Bowie computer programmer who asked that her name not be used. "Bowie is a good place to live, but the cons are that the school system is not as good as other jurisdictions . It just doesn't have the status value."
Blacks interviewed had different ideas about the county's prestige. They said Prince George's allows them to enjoy the status of living in the suburbs without what they consider the traditional element of social exclusion based on race.
"Everybody seems to mind their own business and do their own thing," said a black Laurel resident who asked that his name not be used.
"I'm from New York and my wife is from a small town in South Carolina, but we like it here," he said.