Hamilton College National Opinion Poll

Immigration and Racial Change: Are All Generations On The Same Page?

A Survey of Attitudes toward Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity


Data from the 2010 Census indicate that the United States is in the midst of profound demographic shift. A combination of factors — high levels of immigration, increasing rates of interracial marriage, and a growing willingness to embrace new and mixed racial and ethnic categories — has fundamentally altered the racial categories that were used to define American identities only a generation ago. Consequently, American attitudes and beliefs about race, ethnicity, and religion have become increasingly complex.

These demographic and attitudinal changes have had their greatest impact on young Americans. This age cohort is by far the most racially and ethnically diverse and a recent report found that a majority of babies born in the U.S. are among minority groups.1 In addition to increased exposure to racial and ethnic diversity, young people have also come of age after the racial controversies and conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s.

These generational changes have led some analysts to suggest a new divide in American politics in which racial and ethnic divisions overlay generational differences.  On one side is an older generation of Americans, largely Anglo and White, increasingly concerned about America’s cultural and demographic changes.  On the other side is a younger generation identifies and is comfortable with this new and more diverse America.  This “generational mismatch” between “gray and brown” underpins the increasing controversies over a range of issues including immigration, taxes, public education, health care, and Social Security.2   But does this generational mismatch actually exist?  Do the attitudes of young Americans regarding race, ethnicity, and immigration differ in significant ways for older Americans?

To better understand these issues, the Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College sponsored a national survey of over 1,000 Americans, including 443 young people aged 18-29.  This online survey was conducted by Knowledge Networks from March 12-March 21, 2011.  Respondents include 941 individuals who took the survey in English and 66 respondents who took the survey in Spanish.  Based on this sample, the margin of error for all respondents is approximately +/- 3%.  The margin of error within the sample of young people is approximately =/- 4.6%.

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1 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35793316/ns/us_news-life
2 http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/the-gray-and-the-brown-the-generational-mismatch-20100724

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