If you want to see where the United States is headed, you need to consult young people of color. That’s what the Black Youth Project at the University Chicago and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research aim to do in a massive series of polls over the next year.
“To our knowledge this is the first survey of its kind — the first ongoing, monthly survey of young people that focuses on major racial and ethnic groups,” said Jon Rogowski, a political scientist at Harvard and one of the researchers on the project, along with the University of Chicago’s Cathy Cohen and Matthew Luttig.
This week, they released results from their first poll, conducted in June, which reveals that major racial and ethnic fractures remain among young people 18 to 30 years old. Millennials disagree sharply in their beliefs about racism in today’s society, in their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, in their approval of President Obama, in their views on guns control -- and, of course, in their political preferences.
The report is another reminder that we are many generations away from becoming a post-racial nation. As the researchers point out, the data “make clear that race is still a factor in determining one’s lot in life as well as how young adults see the political, economic and social world.”
What millennials think about politics
Millennial minorities in the survey overwhelmingly identified with Democrats, but whites were split down the middle: 44 percent leaned toward Democrats and 42 percent leaned toward Republicans. In this respect, the young white adults resembled their parents — in the general population, whites lean Republican 49 to 40 percent, according to Pew.
That white millennials have Republican tendencies is not that surprising. Exit polls in 2012 showed that among whites under 30, Republican Mitt Romney led Obama by seven points. This underscores the Republican party’s demographic challenges. The GOP is still holding onto a large chunk of young white Americans, but it has struggled to attract minorities, who are becoming an increasingly large part of the electorate.
One surprise among Democrats is that black millennials favored Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton 53 to 39 percent. That’s not too far off from the split among non-Hispanic white millennials, which was 62 to 32 percent in favor of Sanders, and it challenges the stereotype that Sanders solely appeals to white liberal voters. Among millennials who are Democrats, Sanders commands majority support across ethnic groups. (This pattern was also apparent among primary voters in the exit polls.)
What millennials agree on is that they would not be satisfied with a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump matchup. A large majority, about 70 percent, said they would want someone from a third party to run. Millennials of all ethnicities agreed overwhelmingly that Trump should release his tax returns, and that Clinton should release her speeches to Wall Street.
They also all said that Donald Trump is a racist.
Their views on the state of the United States
The divide between young minorities and whites is also apparent in their views on policies.
Young whites are more likely to support airstrikes against the Islamic State, building a wall along the Mexican border and deporting undocumented immigrants. They also are more likely than blacks to say that transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with.
Minorities are more liberal on economic issues. They are more likely than whites to support increases in the minimum wage and free tuition at colleges. They are more likely to agree with the idea that wealth in America should be more evenly distributed.
Some of the starkest differences, though, involve racial questions. “The media narrative of a tolerant generation of young adults — much of which was spun in response to young people’s widespread acceptance of people based on their sexual orientation — does not easily apply as well to race,” the researchers write.
Minorities were much more likely to say that racism “remains a major problem in our society.” About 80 percent of black millennials agreed with that statement, compared with 74 percent of Latinos and 64 percent of Asians. Only 54 percent of white Americans agreed with that statement.
It may be surprising that even a majority of young whites believe that racism causes serious harm; when researchers asked that same question to adults of any age in 2008, only one-third of whites felt the same way.
This survey, which will be the first of several, was based on an unusually large and unusually diverse sample of young Americans. The researchers contacted nearly 2,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 30: about 500 black, 600 white, 500 Latino and 300 Asian.
The large numbers of minorities meant that the margin of error for each racial or ethnic group was relatively narrow — about six percentage points in either direction. In typical national polls, the margin of error is often twice as large for minorities because they are less represented in most surveys.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Jon Rogowski as a political scientist at the Washington University in St. Louis. He is now at Harvard as of July.