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Members of Steve Wu's class who worked on the poll.
Members of Steve Wu's class who worked on the poll.
PHOTO: BY J.D. ROSS

Levitt Poll finds African-American teens more optimistic about future than white teens

By Vige Barrie  |  Contact Stephen Wu
Posted April 28, 2010
Tags Economics Government Levitt Center Polling Stephen Wu

A panel of students taking Labor Economics with Associate Professor of Economics Stephen Wu presented the results of the most recent Levitt Center Youth Poll via webcast on Thursday, April 29. The survey of high school students’ attitudes toward the U.S. economy and the performance of President Obama revealed significant difference in attitudes on both issues between African-American and white teens. Two-thirds of African-American teenagers believe they’ll be more prosperous than their parents. In contrast, a little more than a third of white students believe their standard of living will be better than their parents.

The Associated Press also released an article summarizing some of the results on Thursday morning on its national wire. The complete poll report can be found at www.hamilton.edu/economicspoll.

A sample of 818 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the country completed the survey, which asked questions about their attitudes and general knowledge about the economy and President Obama’s performance. The survey was conducted with the research firm Knowledge Networks.

When the survey results were broken down by race, African-American teens were much more optimistic than white teens: 69 percent of African-Americans said they believe they’ll have a higher standard of living than their parents, while only 36 percent of whites feel the same way. Overall, 39 percent of respondents believe they’ll be more prosperous than their parents.

Asked about President Obama’s performance, 26 percent of teens overall believe he’s doing a “very good or “good” job; but only 21 percent of white teens rated Obama’s performance as “very good” or “good,” compared with 71 percent of African-American respondents.

When polled as to whether Obama is doing a better job than expected, 45 percent of African-Americans said “yes,” compared with just 6 percent of whites.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents believe that China will “definitely,” “probably” or “might” surpass the United States as an economic power within the next five years, suggesting the respondents’ global perspective is more negative than their personal belief in a prosperous future.

A half-hour webcast that will include further survey details will be presented on Thursday, April 29, at 9:30 a.m. at http://www.hamilton.edu/pollcast/ by Professor Wu and four of his students.

Other overall findings include:


  • More than 49 percent of all respondents said Obama’s handling of the economy was “poor” or “very poor.”
  • 50 percent of those polled believe the economy will be “much better” or “better” in five years than it is now; 16 percent believe it will be the same; 34 percent believe it will be worse.
  • 49 percent believe Social Security will be insolvent within their lifetime; 34 percent believe it will still exist but will be less generous.
  • 15 percent believe China will “definitely” surpass the United States as an economic power within the next 20 years; 32 percent believe it will “probably” surpass the U.S.; 40 percent believe it “might.”
  • More than 86 percent of all respondents said the economy had “definitely” or “somewhat” affected their families’ spending.
  • On a test of current economic facts, students who have taken or are currently taking an economics course perform slightly better than those who have not.
  • 84 percent believe that it’s “important” or “very important” for the current government to control the level of debt.
  • Almost 70 percent “never” or “seldom” read a printed newspaper
  • 52 percent read news “daily,” “often” or “sometimes” online.

On general multiple-choice questions (with “I don’t know” as a possible answer), some results include:


  • 34 percent could correctly identify the level of the national debt.
  • 27 percent knew the approximate level of the Dow at the time of the survey
  • 49 percent knew the unemployment rate
  • 32 percent knew the role of the Federal Reserve
  • 46 percent knew that the Fed generally decreases interest rates during periods of contraction
  • 28 percent could correctly identify Ben Bernanke as the current Fed chairman

Wu and his students devised the poll questions, which were distributed via the Knowledge Networks Panel, an online, non-volunteer access panel whose members are chosen through a statistically valid sampling frame covering 99 percent of the U.S. population. This poll was conducted March 5 – 13, 2010.

This survey is one of a series of youth polls funded by the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. Previous polls have addressed youth attitudes on the environment, abortion, patriotism, immigration, politics and the U.S. Senate, Muslim Americans, gay issues, gun regulation and race issues.

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