Young people support gun control, have varying attitudes about police depending on race, new poll says

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Young people in America support gun control measures and oppose Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.—but respond very differently to questions about policing depending on their race, according to the latest edition of the monthly GenForward survey which was released today.

The July survey, which included 1,940 young people aged 18-30, was conducted online and over the phone by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey was conducted between July 9 and 20, while the Republican and Democratic National Conventions were taking place. It is the second poll in a monthly series started by the Black Youth Project in June.


Respondents said they thought the most important problem facing America today is racism, followed by terrorism, homeland security, and education.

Among black and Latinx youth, police brutality ranked as the second most important problem facing America after racism.


One question in the survey asked the following:

To date all of the police officers tried for the killing of Freddie Gray—a 25-year-old African American man who died from injuries suffered while being transported in a police van in Baltimore—have been found not guilty. How does that make you feel about the criminal justice system?

For 64% of those surveyed, the results of the officers' trials involved in Freddie Gray's death gave them less confidence in the criminal justice system. That response was consistent across races. But when asked if the killing of black people by police officers is a serious problem, the racial divide became clear: 73% of black people said it's an extremely serious problem, compared with just 24% of white people.

The researchers wrote that attitudes about police brutality are likely linked to people's first-hand experiences. Respondents were asked: "Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment or violence at the hands of the police?" Tellingly, 68% of young black people said they or someone they know had been harassed or attacked by police, while just 30% of white youth reported the same.


"While these figures are based on self-reports and therefore should be interpreted with some degree of caution, they do provide another set of data points to show that experiences with the police vary significantly across racial and ethnic groups," the researchers write. "Young people of color, and African American young adults in particular, experience the police in entirely different, often negative, ways compared to young white adults. These experiential differences are likely to shape young peoples’ orientations toward the police."

54% of those surveyed said they thought gun control was more important than protecting the right to bear arms, and 57% said they support a ban on selling semi-automatic weapons. Support for gun control over gun rights was more evident from young people of color: 63% of young black people, 76% of young Asian Americans, and 60% of Latinxs said they thought gun control was more important than protecting gun ownership rights, compared to 47% of white youth.


An even higher percentage of those interviewed (83%) support criminal background checks for all gun sales. A majority (68%) also said they support more police or armed guards in places like schools, movie theaters and malls.

"In the wake of mass shootings like Orlando, FL and continuing gun violence in cities like Chicago, the issue of gun control has risen to the top of the political agenda for many Americans. Young adults of all races and ethnicities identify gun control as an important problem," wrote the report's authors, Cathy J. Cohen, Matthew D. Luttig, and Jon C. Rogowski.


Of everyone surveyed, 61% said they thought gun control laws overall should be made stricter, and 77% said the government should devote additional resources to preventing gun violence.

Young people had more consistent attitudes across races about some LGBTQ rights issues: 75% said they support police sensitivity training about transgender issues.


The poll also had Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump with young voters: 35% said they would vote for Clinton, 19% for Trump, and 15% said they wouldn't vote at all. A majority of the young people surveyed (68%) also said they oppose Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.