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Ethnic Survey Reveals Wide Range of Political Attitudes

March 06, 1986|BILL BOYARSKY | Times City-County Bureau Chief

While blacks are overwhelmingly liberal and loyal to the Democratic Party, a Caltech study showed Wednesday that fundamentalist Protestant religion gives them a strong streak of conservatism on the social issues of school prayer and abortion.

And, while the Asian community is swelling with immigrants who do not speak English, Asians are much less enthusiastic about bilingual education than Latinos, whose community is also receiving large numbers of non-English speakers.

Those two findings are examples of data released Wednesday from a public opinion poll by Caltech political scientists that delves into the complexities of political feelings in ethnic communities and produces evidence contradicting the idea that ethnic minorities add up to a united political bloc.

Differences in age, religion and income, as well as ethnic loyalties, are big factors in determining votes, Professors Bruce E. Cain and D. Roderick Kiewiet reported in a study financed by the Seaver Institute. The survey, based on telephone interviews with 1,646 blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans and whites throughout the state, was presented at a Caltech symposium on "Minorities in California."

Cain said in an interview that the findings reveal complexities in political attitudes that show how difficult it will be to build the kind of multi-ethnic "rainbow coalition" that the Rev. Jesse Jackson tried to build in his 1984 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"There is no simple coalition between ethnic groups that will emerge," Cain said.

The survey cited blacks as an example of how religion influences political feelings.

"In general, of course, blacks are the most liberal and loyally Democratic of all the racial/ethnic groups in the United States," the study said. Blacks favor increased welfare spending more than the other groups and are least likely to support the death penalty.

But the survey noted that on several social issues, blacks in the survey "revealed a surprising degree of conservatism."

A total of 62% of blacks favored prayer in the public schools and blacks were the most likely group to favor banning federal spending on abortion. Thirty-six percent of the blacks surveyed favored the ban, compared with 35% of the whites, 32% of the Latinos and 31% of the Asian-Americans.

The survey found that membership in evangelical Protestant churches was responsible for the conservative feelings on those issues.

"Those who designated themselves as belonging to an evangelical Protestant church (55% of our black sample) were much more likely to favor a ban on federal abortion funds, to favor prayer in the public schools, to be against gun registration and to oppose the equal rights amendment," the report said. "In short, a major determinant of the social conservatism we observed among blacks is the influence of fundamentalist Protestantism."

Income Has Influence

Latinos in the study showed how income, as well as ethnic background, can influence political feelings.

The survey found, "There were significant differences between lower- and upper-income Latinos on many issues." It said that upper-income Latinos were more likely to oppose increased welfare expenditures and federal funds for abortion, and tended to favor school prayer, gun registration and employer sanctions to penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Asian-American political attitudes were more conservative than those of blacks and Latinos. Asians supported President Reagan in the 1984 election, registering Republican in large numbers. They favored the death penalty more than blacks and Latinos and were more sympathetic to arms spending than the other two groups.

Latinos as a group also demonstrated political complexities, with differences on issues breaking down along income, generational and male-female lines within that group.

The survey found sharp differences between Latinos and Asians on issues that, outwardly, the two groups might seem to agree.

'Important Differences'

"Looking at the demography of the Asian community, we might expect that it shares the Latino concern for bilingualism and immigration policy, but instead we find some important differences," the report said.

Asians, the survey found, were much less enthusiastic than Latinos and blacks about bilingual education. Asians were more likely than Latinos to favor sanctions against employers hiring illegal immigrants and to favor amnesty for illegals.

After studying these and similar figures, researchers Cain and Kiewiet and their team found that "it is immediately apparent" that interests of the various ethnic minorities "are not identical."

The researchers conceded that "political attitudes do not, of course, flow deterministically from a person's occupation, income, education level and the like." But they said, "in the aggregate, there do seem to be statistical correlations."

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