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Establishing a political agenda for African-Americans.

As the Democratic and Republican national conventions approach, B.E. readers speak out on the election-year issues that will decide their votes.

Four months ago, BLACK ENTERPRISE asked you, our readers, what the political agenda for African-Americans should be in 1992. As the nation prepares for the presidential elections in November, we thought we would give you an opportunity to send a message to politicians. Our survey, "Establishing A Political Agenda For African-Americans," (see BE, March 1992) asked for your opinions on a variety of political, economic and social issues. We asked you to assess some of the nation's most pressing problems and then decide which approaches might best alleviate them. We also asked your opinions on abortion and affirmative action.

The results indicate that our readers are not confident in the nation's current leadership. The results also show that the black community yearns for economic and social changes that will improve their quality of life. But even with the overriding political pessimism in the numbers, our survey respondents outline some strategies that they believe can help strengthen the nation.

Who Answered The Survey?

The typical respondent was 39.3 years old and well-educated. A healthy 70.4% had completed college, and 32.1% of that number had earned postgraduate degrees. Respondents seemed relatively well-off, with 43.7% having a total household income of more than $50,000. The average household income of all respondents was $50,800.

The respondents were 56.9% male and 43.1% female. Most (59.1%) were members of the Democratic Party. The second-largest political affiliation (24.7%) were independents. Interestingly, 7.1% said they were undecided about their political affiliation--a larger percentage than the 6.9% that were aligned with the Republican Party.

The age, income and education data suggests that those who completed our survey are like many Americans who will vote in this year's presidential, congressional and senatorial elections. Like other Americans, our readers no doubt have been affected by the anti-politician sentiment that has swept the nation. The increase in negative political campaigning; the check-bouncing scandal at the House bank in Washington, D.C.; tough economic times and other factors have created the impression that politicians are untrustworthy and inept. Disgusted voters have demanded term limits and have energized groups such as EMILY's List, a donor network for pro-choice Democratic women, to make drastic changes in the way government represents them. Clearly, some of this voter discontent is reflected in our survey results.

What's Most Important?

When asked to choose the top three issues of concern from a list of 10, education was clearly the number one priority for our survey respondents. Not only did 61.6% feel it will be the most significant issue facing African-Americans over the next four years, but 55.6% felt improving the nation's public education system should be the top priority for whoever wins the White House.

Respondents chose crime/drug abuse and the economy as the next two major concerns for African-Americans. A majority (51.3%) felt that addressing crime, drugs and other forms of substance abuse was critical, and 39.8% felt reviving the economy was most important. Interestingly enough, when choosing the top priorities for the nation, respondents also felt those two issues followed education in importance, but they changed the order. They voted 49.7% for stimulating the economy and 42.2% for reducing crime/enforcing the war on drugs.

Rating The Republicans

Six survey questions asked respondents to evaluate African-American progress in a variety of areas under Republican administrations during the past 12 years. The responses show the depth of black skepticism for a Republican-controlled White House.

In each of the following areas, the majority of respondents felt that there was only minimal progress or none at all. On education, 43.5% said Ronald Reagan and George Bush ("the education president") had made no progress and 39.7% said progress was slight. On generating income and wealth, 37.7% said progress was nil and 43.9% listed it as slight. For employment and business development, 48.3% and 33.5% respectively felt nothing had been done, while 38.7% and 46.2% felt that they improved slightly. This economic pessimism persists in the black community despite what has been touted as the longest sustained economic boom in American history during the Reagan-Bush years of the 1980s.

A whopping 60.3% felt the Republican's "War on Drugs" was a bust, and 29% said progress was barely discernable. And an equally alarming 57.6% of respondents felt there was no effort to make affordable housing more available, while another 31.7% said some progress was achieved.

In fact, no more than a measly 1.7% of the total respondents felt that the Republicans had made advances in any of these areas. And no more than 13.5% felt progress in any one area was even moderate. This is perhaps as strong a message of no confidence as one could imagine.

Perhaps as a consolation, the 6.9% of survey respondents who consider themselves Republicans were more optimistic in some areas. Almost a third (29.9%) said moderate progress had been made in business development, and 34.8% thought moderate progress had been made in generating income and wealth. An additional 6.1% and 7.3% of the Republican respondents thought major progress had been made in business development and income and wealth respectively.

But Democrats should not rejoice over the bleak report card our survey takers gave the last three Republican administrations. Respondents were not enamored with the Democratic Party either. Respondents were asked to pick the political party they thought had the most viable agenda to improve the nation's economy and make it grow until 1996. A disheartening 57.7% said neither political party could do the job. Even though 34.4% believe the Democratic Party may have a viable plan as opposed to only 6.9% believing in the Republican Party, this should hardly be considered a victory. Even when you break the respondents down along party lines, a surprising 52.1% of Democrats and 42.1% of Republicans said neither party could meet the nation's needs.

Choosing Strategies For Growth

Even conservative economists say the U.S. economy is growing again. However, its slow growth is not expected to create new jobs or replace most of the jobs that have been lost. This lack of strong growth affects African-Americans across all income levels.

Our survey asked readers their opinions on a number of initiatives that would have a positive impact on the national economy and on African-Africans. An overwhelming 77.3% of the respondents said strengthening the U.S. economy is primarily a government initiative. Only 21.2% said it was primarily a private-sector concern. Breaking ranks with their conservative brethren who generally abhor government intervention, 56.7% of the Republican respondents also said the economy is the federal government's responsibility.

A majority of respondents also agreed on which government initiatives will have the greatest impact on the growth of African-American business during the next 10 years. A total of 59% said increased funding for Small Business Administration and Minority Business Development Agency programs was paramount. Twenty-four percent said increased government-backed small business loans were important. Only 15.3% said government set-aside programs needed to be strengthened. This may reflect the overall feeling that the assaults against set-aside programs during the 1980s make them too risky to count on for the future.

When asked which strategy would have the most positive effect on the national economy, the majority of respondents (58.4%) voted for reducing the federal deficit, while 39.9% called for significant tax cuts. When asked what strategy would have the most positive effect on their personal financial status, 53.4% of our survey takers said individual tax cuts would do the trick. Another 19.8% said a low-cost national health insurance plan would help their personal bottom line. Additionally, 13.6% of respondents said increased government aid for higher education would have more impact; whereas 12.4% of the respondents think the opportunity to refinance their mortgages to take advantage of lower interest rates would have more impact.

Affirmative-Action And Social Programs

Throughout the 1980s and into this decade, affirmative-action/antidiscrimination laws have been lightning rods for controversy. BE election survey respondents were asked whether affirmative-action laws are more or less necessary now than they were five years ago.

Once again, Republicans in our survey broke ideological ranks with the conservative approach of the GOP leadership. In the areas of equal opportunity hiring, access to higher education, government and private-sector contracts, access to personal and business loans and access to housing, no less than 61% of the Republicans said that affirmative-action/discrimination laws were more necessary now than five years ago. No less than 74.9% of Democratic respondents felt the same way. When asked to reflect on whether the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which President Bush criticized and reluctantly signed, would face anti-new challenges during the next four years, nine out of 10 respondents said yes. That includes nearly nine out of 10 black Republicans. Only 8.5% of survey respondents disagreed with the majority.

These responses illustrate the growing problem of race relations in this country. It also shows that our readers are very concerned about the effects that conservative Republican policies are having on their civil rights. The conservative make-up of the Supreme Court and the continuing perception that African-Americans cannot get equal justice within the criminal justice system exacerbates these fears.

Most survey respondents do not believe that the fall of communism will create a peace dividend that will be used domestically. By a margin of 66.8% to 33%, they felt President Bush would not channel cuts in military spending to domestic programs. Of those who did feel that military cuts would result in domestic spending, 82.4% said the money should be allocated to social programs for poor and disadvantaged Americans.

There was a broad range of opinion regarding which program would be the most viable method of increasing affordable housing for all Americans. As before, our survey takers exhibited their predilection for tax breaks. Nearly 36% of the group thought special tax credits for first-time home buyers should be made available. Another 33.7% said tax credits for those who invest in affordable housing construction should be used as a stimulus.

Democrats and Republicans differed on which housing tax breaks would be more effective. Most Republican respondents (43.9%) felt giving tax credits to investors would be best. Most Democrats (36.7%) felt giving tax credits to first-time home buyers was more important. Smaller percentages suggested that increasing affordable housing could be achieved through subsidized housing vouchers (18.9%) or by simply building more public housing (10.2%).

Nationwide, a variety of new welfare reform programs and proposals (See "Can The Welfare System Be Reformed?," Washington Page, this issue) are being considered as alternatives to the current system, which many critics say is paternalistic and destructive. When considering what type of reform should be implemented, a clear majority (60.5%) picked learnfare (tying education/skills training to aid) as the program the next administration should emphasize. Workfare programs and proposals (creating jobs) were the choice of 38.3% of survey respondents.

Child Care, Health Care And Abortion

Many Americans are concerned about the availability and affordability of quality care for their children while they work or study. Three-quarters of the survey respondents said the United States should establish a national day-care policy to solve this problem. Only 22.7% disagreed.

Quality health care is also of major concern to BE readers. The cost of health care is sky rocketing, and 37 million Americans have no health care insurance at all. A clear majority (75.7%) voted for the creation of a national health care plan, with only 17.1% opposing the idea.

Finally, regarding abortion, one of the nation's most controversial subjects, 75.6% of the respondents described themselves as pro-choice, 13.8% were right-to-life and 9.6% undecided. In what is sure to shape up as a critical party platform issue this November, Democrats (78.1%) supported choice slightly more than Republicans (67.7%). Only 24.4% of the Republicans in our survey described themselves as right-to-life.

The survey clearly shows a majority of our readers in direct opposition to the Bush administration. Survey respondents say affirmative-action policies are needed more now than ever. President Bush opposes all affirmative-action policies, including minority scholarships. Respondents want to see government action regarding domestic issues such as child care, health care and minority business development. The president has offered vague proposals and dragged his feet on all these areas. Come Election Day, it's probably safe to say that there'll be wide differences between what the president wants and what our readers will offer him at the polls.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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