In this post, I am going to look at racial differences across a wide range of policy issues, both in the US and globally. In large part, I am going to be arguing against a view I used hold which says that there are large policy differences between racial groups that are reasonably reliable across geography, and so can be interpreted as reflecting something fundamental about races.
1. Really Basic Freedoms
Let’s begin with freedoms that really just involve you being able to be yourself. Free speech, the right to say whatever you want, and free association, the right to refuse to associate with whoever you want, are freedoms that don’t involve the use of any external objects (e.i. guns or drugs), and doesn’t involved any favor from the state (e.g. gay marriage) and so seem to me fundamental and basic in a way that other freedoms are not.
1.1 Free Speech
I used to think that, on average, White people were in favor of free speech in ways that non-Whites weren’t. I no longer think this. A useful opening observation might be that free speech isn’t the norm in Europe. They have laws against hate speech and these laws are supported by the European public.
The same Pew survey finds that US non-Whites support free speech more than Europeans do.
Notice also that a majority of non-Whites in the US support free speech. This isn’t what all surveys find. Consider, for instance, this YouGov poll:
Based on this sort of result, I used to think that non-Whites in the US on net were against free speech. However, most other surveys I’ve seen show that most non-White Americans are pro-free speech even if by a lesser margin than Whites. For instance:
GSS (variables used: RACEHISP(D:1), SPKRAC, SPKCOM, SPKMSLM)
So, most non-Whites probably support free speech. More White Americans do. And most European Whites do not.
And White American support for free speech is not absolute. Most White American’s aren’t pro-free speech when it comes to Muslims who speak against the government. Polling from back in the 30s-60s shows that they weren’t in favor of free speech for communists, fascists, and “radicals”, either (Erskine, 1970; Gallup, 2017).
Thus, being pro free speech is not a global feature of White people, even relative to non-Whites, and isn’t all that consistent among White Americans and, at the moment, American non-Whites seem to be reasonably pro free-speech too.
1.2 Freedom of Association
Freedom of association is mostly in the public eye these days because of instances in which gay people attempt to force religious people into doing business with them. Most Americans of all races support the freedom of religious people in such instances:
The General Social Survey asks a question about whether White people should have the right to segregate into their own neighborhoods if they want to. The vast majority of Whites and non-Whites say they shouldn’t (N=19,622).
So, Whites might be marginally more in favor of freedom of association, but the margin doesn’t seem large enough for it to matter in either practical context.
2. Freedom to Own/Use Things
There are other freedoms that involve the use of things that are thought to pose some risk to others. The major examples of this are guns and drugs.
2.1 Gun Laws
With respect to gun laws, Pew polling asks participants whether protecting gun rights or gun control should be a higher national priority.
Pew finds that Whites say protecting gun rights should be a greater priority while non-Whites think gun control is more important. This wasn’t always the case though. Whites were on the same side of this issue as non-Whites, though by a lesser margin, until Obama took office. Since Obama left, White prioritization of gun rights has fallen. This is plausibly attributable to fears some had that the Obama administration would attempt a major gun grab.
This Pew data is also problematic because it is very abstract. That is, it doesn’t address any specific policy. The GSS asks participants whether gun owners should be required to get a permit to own a gun. Most Whites and most non-Whites favor permits, though Whites do so by a lesser margin.
Rueter’s data shows a plurality of Whites today, and a slim majority of non-Whites, favoring “strong regulations” for guns.
Earlier this year, Quinnipiac conducted a poll (N=1,249) that asked a series of pretty specific questions about gun control. The basic finding is that Whites and non-Whites alike support stricter gun laws, but Whites do so by a lesser margin than non-Whites.
Reuters asked a pretty broad question about whether the federal government should regulate guns at all and found that 58% of Whites and non-Whites thought that it should.
So, Whites seem marginally more pro-gun than non-Whites, bus this doesn’t seem to change the policies that most Whites and non-Whites think should be implemented.
2.2 Drug Laws
With respect to drug laws, some polls find Whites being more libertarian and other find them being less. In any case, most Americans of all racial groups seem to support more libertarian drug laws than what we currently have:
This isn’t very surprising or interesting.
3. Left Wing Social Values
In this section, I’m going to look at gay marriage, abortion, and gender equality. Unlike the previous issues, I don’t see any of these issues as being fundamentally about freedom, and so they seem conceptually distinct.
3.1 Gay Marriage
Homosexuality is accepted in most Western European nations, a few Latin American countries, and basically nowhere else.
In America, it has often been noted that Whites are to the left of African Americans on gay marriage. This is true, but recent polling indicates that a majority of both races now support same-sex marriage.
Hispanic support for gay marriage seems intermediate between the views of Whites and Blacks.
Gay marriage and homosexuality aren’t accepted in most Asian, African, and Latin American countries. Despite this, immigrants from these regions seem to assimilate pretty well into the American culture on this issue. It is interesting that, as we saw before, they also assimilate into a balance whereby Americans favor gay marriage and oppose forcing people to do business with gay people. So, that’s neat.
The ability to get an abortion for basically any reason is available in most White countries, a few Asian countries, and hardly anywhere else.
In America, Asians are to the left of the general public on abortion and Asian born in America are way to the left of the general public.
Polling that asks people whether they are for or against abortions being legal suggests that White and Black Americans generally take liberal views on abortion, while Hispanic Americans are evenly split on the issue.
It’s worth noting though that most American’s take a less than left-wing view of abortion, saying that it is morally wrong and should be legal in some, not all, cases.
Given this, simple binary polling on abortion may be misleading. Using the GSS, I looked at a question that asked whether abortion should be legal for any reason. I restricted the analysis to answers given since 2009. Whites were to the left of non-Whites but both groups were against totally free access to abortions.
So, no matter how you cut it, Whites and non-Whites seem to be on the same side of this issue.
3.3 Gender Equality
In the abstract, embracing gender equality is really popular outside of certain Islamic and African nations.
Most people around the world say that gender equality is very important, that women should be able to choose their own Husband, and that educating men and women is equally important.
Most people also say that women should be able to work outside the home and that marriages are better when both people work. However, outside of the West, many people say that when jobs are scarce it is more important that men get them.
The vast majority of people, again outside of certain Islamic nations, say that women should have equal rights. Ironically, in the West, most people think more changes are needed to give women equal rights while most in several Islamic and Asian nations do not.
In terms of objectively measured gaps between the sexes, Europe is the most equal, closely followed by East Asian nations. South Asian, African, and Arab, nations have far less in the way of gender equality.
Pew Polling suggests that most people of all races in the US think that women still face significant discrimination that inhibits their life outcomes.
GSS data also suggests that most Whites and non-Whites think that women should work and that doing so doesn’t hurt children.
Globally, Europeans are somewhat to the left on gender, but this doesn’t seem to be true in the US. There are many non-White nations that have a fair degree of gender equality, and in the US people races don’t significantly differ in their gender-related viewpoints.
4. The Economy
Now, let’s turn to economics. If you follow US public opinion polling, it is easy to get the idea that only White people support the free market. I used to think so. For instance, According to pew polling:
- 65% of Whites, 39% of Blacks, and 49% of Hispanics agree that “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful”
- 60% of Whites, 51% of blacks, and 49% of Hispanics (plurality), agree with the statement “Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good”.
- 80% of Blacks, 71% of Hispanics, and 58% of Whites agree with the statement “A free market economy needs government regulation in order to best serve the public interest”
- 36% of Whites, 60% of Blacks, and 66% of Hispanics agree with the statement “The government should help more needy people even if it means going deeper in debt”.
Moreover, Whites are the only US racial group to prefer a smaller government to a larger one.
A problem with the polls I’ve cited thus far is that they all ask vague questions about economic ideology rather than questions about specific policies. This makes a big difference because, as it turns out, White people like vague free-market rhetoric but do not like concrete free-market policies. For instance, Pew data shows that a majority of every US racial group supports raising the minimum wage, though Whites do so by a lesser margin than non-Whites.
We see similar things if we look at healthcare. For instance, Reuters polling finds that both White and non-White Americans support a public option for healthcare by similar margins.
A similar Reuters poll finds that Whites oppose decreases to healthcare spending by a larger margin than do non-Whites.
Interestingly, these numbers look basically the same even when a decrease in income taxes is not mentioned.
It’s worth noting here that Whites are far to the right of non-Whites if leftist healthcare views are framed as Obamacare.
But this seems to reflect an opposition to Democrats and Obama, not left win policies on healthcare.
4.2 Welfare and Infrastructure
GSS data does suggest that Whites are more likely than non-Whites to say that we spend too much on welfare, but this is a minority view even among Whites.
Reuters data also suggests that most Whites oppose cutting welfare spending even if this leads to lower taxes:
Reuters polling also finds that Whites and non-Whites opposing ending programs like Medicaid and food stamps by roughly the same margin:
Relatedly, a Quinnipiac poll finds that the vast majority of Whites and non-Whites support increased spending infrastructure.
4.3 Military Spending
GSS data suggests that most Whites oppose decreasing military spending. Most non-Whites support it.
Data from Reuters suggests the same thing.
4.4 Social Security
Whites respondents to the General Social Survey are more likely than non-Whites to say we spend too much on social security, but a majority of Whites and non-Whites say that we actually spend too little.
Reuters polling finds that Whites and non-Whites oppose raising the age at which people qualify for social security and that Whites do so by a larger margin than non-Whites.
Reuters polling also finds that Whites and non-Whites oppose privatizing social security, and once again Whites do so by a larger margin.
And Reuters finds that Whites and non-Whites opposing ending social security and Medicare, and that Whites do so by a larger margin than non-Whites.
GSS data also suggests that Whites might be to the left of non-Whites on taxing the rich:
Reuters data also finds that Whites and non-Whites think that taxes on the wealthy should be raised, though Whites do so by a lesser margin.
Most Americans do support lower taxes, but Whites do so by a lesser margin than non-Whites.
Whites are also less likely than non-Whites to support ending the income tax, though both groups oppose this measure.
And Reuters data suggest that both Whites and non-Whites oppose lowering corporate taxes by similar margins.
4.6 Free Trade
So far, what we’ve seen is that the American public, both White and non-White, doesn’t like the free market very much when they are asked about specific policies. The major exception to this is free trade. A plurality of Americans, both Whites and non-Whites, say that free trade agreements have been good for the United States, although Whites are somewhat less favorable towards free trade than non-Whites are.
Perhaps surprisingly, even Republicans, who are basically right-wing Whites, on net see trade as being good for economic growth rather than being a threat to the economy.
4.7 Global Data
That’s America. Let’s briefly turn to England. Some polls find that English Whites are to the left of Non-Whites in England on economic questions.
I’m not sure if this poll is an outlier, as it’s the only one I’ve seen from England that compares economic views by race.
It’s hard to find racial comparisons within countries, but Western Europeans generally seem to be against free markets even when the questions are worded in abstract ways.
Some datasets let us compare responses from people all over the world. The World Values survey is an example of this. The 2004 – 2008 wave of the survey asked respondents whether individuals or governments should take on more responsibility. This was asked on a 10 point scale with 1 being the most pro-individual response and 10 being the most pro-government.
As can be seen, East Asians averaged the most libertarian answer.
Another question asked whether state or private ownership of business should be increased, again on a 10 point scale with lower numbers corresponding to more libertarian viewpoints.
In this instance, White people gave the more libertarian answers. However, it is noteworthy, or perhaps alarming, that even most White people leaned slightly left on this question.
(I made sure these questions had some validity by confirming that they had statistically significant relationships with mean national economic freedom.)
With that polling out of the way, let’s move onto policy. The Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom places Europe as the most economically free region of the globe:
However, this is untrue of several sub-domains of economic freedom the heritage foundation measures, including taxes, government spending, and labor regulations.
The specific areas where White countries have the freest economies concern things like the consistent application of private property rights, business and investment freedom, and free trade.
It’s also worth noting that the Heritage foundations category “Asia-Pacific” obscures the fact that many East Asian nations have become remarkably economically free in the last 50 years. Actually, according to Heritage, the two most economically free countries in the world are Hong Kong and Singapore. The 30 most economically free countries in the world include Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the UAE.
Finally, it’s worth noting that, about a year ago, I analyzed how the genetic admixture of Latin American countries correlated with its degree of economic freedom. I found that the two variables were utterly unrelated, contrary to my expectations.
So, the free market, at least at the level that US Republican and libertarian intellectuals talk about, is pretty unpopular. Most people, whether White or non-White, want a pretty large welfare state for poor people, sick people, and old people, and they want these programs to be paid for by the rich. Obviously, it can also be said that most people want competitive markets rather than literal communism or feudalism, and that modern capitalism is something that was spread to the world by Europeans. Then again, so was communism.
White nations today are still freer than most non-White nations, although Eastern Asia is increasingly providing serious competition in this regard. At the global level, race has some relation to economic freedom, but within the United States, it doesn’t seem to.
5. Foreign Policy
Next, let’s look at foreign policy. GSS data indicate that White and non-White Americans embrace an interventionist foreign policy in the abstract, though Whites do so by a larger margin.
Reuters polling also finds Whites being slightly more likely than non-Whites to endorse a more interventionist foreign policy in the abstract.
As we saw before, non-Whites favor decreasing military spending while Whites do not.
Moving to concrete policy, Green (2018) finds that non-Whites are less likely than Whites to think that various reasons are legitimate excuses for foreign intervention.
Nincic and Nincic (2002) find that African Americans have shown lesser support for every major US conflict between the ending of the second world war and the ending of the 20th century. It is noteworthy that Whites, and White males, in particular, favored virtually all of these wars, and that African Americans on net opposed the Korean and Vietnam wars, despite these wars being started by Democrats.
Gallup data from 2004 suggests that White Americans supported the Iraq war while Black Americans did not.
Even before the Iraq war began, Brookings reports that 56% of African Americans opposed it.
In 2009, a CNN poll found that a plurality of White Americans still supported the war in Afghanistan while most Blacks did not. Moreover, 47% of African Americans said they opposed the war from the beginning compared to just 25% of Whites.
The same poll found that more African Americans supported Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, though they did so by a lesser margin than Whites Americans.
In 2013, Reuters ran a question asking whether the US should intervene if the Syrian government utilized illegal chemical weapons.
White and non-White Americans alike opposed Obamas “red line”, though Whites did so by a larger margin.
In 2014, Reuters ran a question about increasing sanctions on Russia.
Once again we see Americans of all races taking a non-interventionist stance on net under the Obama administration, but Whites doing so by a larger margin.
For the last year, Reuters has been asking respondents about the nuclear agreement with Iran, finding that Americans of all races were against canceling the agreement, with non-Whites opposing doing so by a slightly larger margin than Whites.
It seems, then, that racial differences in this area become large and meaningfully when it comes to actual wars, but are weaker and less consistent when it comes to more minor policy decisions.
6. Affirmative Action
When it comes to affirmative action, we see a reversal of what we saw with economics and gun law. In the abstract, Whites and non-Whites agree on a lot of racial issues, but there are clear disagreements when questions reference specific policy.
Back in 2009, most Whites and non-Whites thought that racism wasn’t a big problem. By 2017, most Whites and most non-Whites had changed their mind.
Today, most Whites, especially young Whites, agree with non-Whites in thinking that the United States needs to make changes so as to ensure that Blacks have the same rights as Whites.
This, too, reflects a recent change among White Americans.
Most Whites do not, however, think that racial discrimination is the main explanation for Black life outcomes.
Perhaps because of this, most Whites do not support affirmative action while most non-Whites do.
However, Gallup data suggests that Whites may have recently moved to favor affirmative action, though not when the affirmative action involves giving minorities preferential treatment. Non-Whites support affirmative action in either condition.
Affirmative action can be done in a variety of ways. Gallup finds that most Whites and most non-Whites don’t think that race should be taken into account in college admissions. Instead, they favor a purely merit-based system.
On the other hand, most non-Whites and most Whites think that programs aimed at increasing the number of minorities on campus are a good thing. Presumably, the idea here is to favor programs that increase the number of minority applicants rather than judging applicants differently depending on race, or, perhaps, giving preference to minority applicants only when comparing students of equal merit.
Other polling finds that White, Black, and Hispanic, Americans support “special effort to help Blacks and other minorities get ahead”, but only Black Americans support minorities being given preferential treatment in college admissions.
So, Whites and most non-Whites seem to take a fairly centrist view on college admissions. The same is not true of reparations. Several polls indicate that most Blacks think that reparations should be paid, including to Blacks who don’t descend from slaves, while Whites do not. Hispanic opinion on the issue is pretty close to an even split.
So, there are real differences in the policy preferences of Whites and non-Whites when it comes to affirmative action. This is especially true with respect to Blacks. This isn’t very surprising.
According to Reuters data, most Whites seem to support a wall on the southern border while most non-Whites do not.
Reuters data also suggests that Whites want to deport most illegal immigrants while most non-Whites do not.
Here are 7 polls that find that Whites and non-Whites alike on net oppose the building of a wall and deporting illegal immigrants:
Here is another poll that sampled people between the ages of 18 and 34:
I think these eight polls are probably right and the single reuters poll is probably wrong. Most people, whether White or not, seem to support amnesty and oppose building a wall.
This last poll is interesting in part because it finds that most non-Whites support mandating that firms not hire illegal immigrants. Data from Reuters suggests the same thing among the general adult population.
Gallup has found the same thing.
The previously referenced poll of young Americans found that only Whites on net wanted to increase security at the border. This is not what polls of the general adult population find. Here is data from Reuters:
And here’s Gallup:
And ABC reported on a poll that found that “There is overwhelming support for stricter border control, with 83 percent in favor of the idea, including 69 percent of Hispanics. Only 15 percent oppose the idea of stricter border control.”
Finally, Pew finds that most Whites and most non-Whites oppose changing the constitution so as to stop people born in the US from automatically becoming citizens.
Thus, perhaps surprisingly, Whites and non-Whites in the US both seem to favor implementing E-verify and increasing security at the border, but oppose building a wall and want there some kind of amnesty package to be passed for most people currently here illegally.
Whites and non-Whites in the US seem to be on the same side when it comes to free speech, freedom of association, gay marriage, abortion, drug laws, healthcare, welfare, taxes, the minimum wage, social security, free trade, and immigration. They might disagree on certain questions involving foreign policy and affirmative action.
This is surprising for two reasons. First, it is shocking that two groups who reliably vote for different parties would have so much in common with respect to policy views. Secondly, it is surprising, or at least it surprised me, that so much of America takes a moderately left-wing stance on almost everything.