Poll finds sharp increase in Americans' concern for problems of minorites, cities

May 11, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Most Americans view the riots in Los Angeles as a "warning" about the state of race relations, and say it is time for a new emphasis on the problems of minorities and the cities, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The new survey, conducted last Wednesday through Friday, found the public in a shaken, worried mood, and more likely to see the unrest as a symptom of festering social needs than as a simple issue of law and order.

Majorities of both whites and blacks said that investing in jobs and job training programs was a better way of preventing future turmoil than was strengthening police forces.

A strong majority of the respondents, 61 percent, said the nation wasspending "too little" on improving the conditions of black Americans, up from 35 percent who expressed that view in 1988.

And 63 percent said the federal government was not paying enough attention to the needs and problems of minorities, a striking increase from the 34 percent who felt that way four years ago.

President Bush, who pledged his commitment to the stricken neighborhoods of Los Angeles last week, was given poor marks by both blacks and whites for his response to the riots.

Moreover, 53 percent of all whites and 76 percent of all blacks said they disapproved of the way Mr. Bush was handling race relations in general.

There was no indication that Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the likely Democratic nominee, or Ross Perot, a likely independent candidate, was gaining much of an immediate advantage from the episode.

Still, the poll suggested that the issues of race and poverty weigh heavily on the public's mind these days and that they doubtless will figure in the campaign debate.

The poll, telephone interviews of 1,253 adults, reflected a nation stillstruggling with the causes of urban turmoil and the most effective response to it.

For example, most people did not see a lack of government money as the biggest impediment to solving "the problems of the cities"; more than half said the biggest difficulty was "a lack of knowledge and understanding about how to solve the problems," and a third said it was simply a lack of national concern.

Still, 60 percent said the nation was spending "too little" on urban woes, up from 46 percent in 1988, contradicting a widely held theory in politics that big cities are an unpopular cause.

The survey detected a clear sense of alarm over race relations.

Sixty-seven percent of whites and 75 percent of blacks said the nation's race relations are "generally bad."

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