U.S. Poll: Youth More Tolerant to Immigrants Than Their Parents

An American national poll surveying xenophobia, ethnic and religious prejudice in society finds age to be the greatest distinguishing factor informing social opinions in the United States.

The survey, carried out by the leading political thinktank, Global Strategy Group, for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based organization promoting pluralism, polled a total of 1,388 American adults from September 29 to October 1, 2005, including 206 African-Americans, 200 Jews and 200 Hispanics.

According to the poll, American youth are less exposed to prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities than adults and are therefore more likely than their parents to welcome waves of immigration and empathize with newcomers.

"The 18- to 34-year-old age group represents the new America and it is the one that is leading the country in a process whose goal it is to bridge the cultural gap and separation," wrote the poll's authors. "Those in this group received higher marks than other groups in the general population for their expressions of support and perception of the cultural problems created by demographic shifts in the U.S."

The poll is the first of its kind to examine the age gap in American public opinion with regard to demographic changes. The survey concludes that the younger generation, comprised of 18- to 34-year-olds, expresses widespread support for the problems and crises faced by immigrants.

However, the older generation has revealed itself as unprepared and unwilling to deal emotionally with the ramifications of an increasingly diverse nation.

The poll contends that Americans over the age of 35, or the "old America," are "unwilling to cope with the massive changes in the demographic reality in the U.S. ... live in complete denial of the ethnic changes, are lagging behind in their approach to interracial relations ... [and] are unwilling to consider the ramifications and real results of racism and discrimination." The only thread of optimism emerging from their responses is that they believe future, more tolerant generations will be better able to connect with other ethnic groups.

The survey also underlines how differently white Anglo-Saxon Americans, as opposed to white Jewish Americans, respond to demographic changes. The poll finds that Jews in particular differ from the rest of the white American population, responding positively to state demographic changes.

Although considered a part of the general white populace here, as opposed to a minority group, the Jews surveyed tended to join other minorities in accepting increased immigration. The poll's minority groups include African-Americans, Latino or Hispanic residents, as well as Asian immigrants.

Immigration levels

When asked whether present levels of legal immigration to the U.S. should be maintained or increased, 58 percent of the Jews polled replied affirmatively, versus 34 percent of white Anglo-Saxons interviewed. Moreover, 57 percent of the Jewish subjects argued that legal immigration strengthened America compared to 45 percent of white Anglo-Saxons. At the same time, 57 percent of the Jews felt that social ties with other ethnic groups were not strong enough, versus 48 percent of white Anglo-Saxons.

Furthermore, 44 percent of Jews polled agreed with African-Americans (36 percent) and Hispanics (36 percent) that interracial relations in the U.S. are poor. When asked to what extent President George W. Bush is involved in efforts to improve interracial ties in the U.S., a majority of 67 percent of Jews answered that the president was not involved enough; 52 percent of white Anglo-Saxons felt similarly.

The poll's findings are timely indeed, considering that within two years, minorities are expected to constitute a majority of the populations of nine states including New York, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Mississippi and Arizona. The vast majority of the American population will belong within 35-40 years to minority groups, argue leading demographers.

In light of these expected changes, Rabbi March Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding said, "The ethnic changes in the American population have created new tensions in many communities... [The purpose of the the poll] is to encourage open and frank dialogue between and within communities and families in order to ensure a better future for our children."

Russell Simmons, considered the king of hip-hop in America and Schneier's colleague in the foundation's leadership, said the poll results demand an immediate reaction throughout the United States. According to him, the 18- to 35-year-old age bracket expressed its opinion in favor of a society of tolerance and diversity whose top priority is easing poverty and reducing ignorance in America.