As these remarks suggest, support for free public college was much greater among those who, in response to a separate question, said they believed that young people today need a four-year college degree to succeed. That question closely divided Americans, with just over half saying young people did need a degree and just under half saying they did not. Among those who believed a degree was indispensable, about three-fifths supported free public college; among those who did not, the number dropped to only about two-fifths.
Traditional differences persisted, but were somewhat more muted, on a final question that asked Americans what strategy they thought would do the most to improve their local economy.
Overall, 40 percent picked “spending more money on education, including K through 12 schools and public colleges and universities.” That was followed by 24 percent who preferred “cutting taxes for individuals and businesses”; 17 percent who backed “raising taxes on foreign products to reduce imports”; and 13 percent who endorsed “reducing the number of new immigrant workers who can enter the U.S.”
Investing more in education drew the deepest support among Asian Americans (69 percent), Democrats (56 percent), Millennials (55 percent), African Americans (53 percent), women (43 percent) and whites holding at least a four-year college degree (42 percent). In all, education was the preferred choice for at least a plurality of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians; men and women; Millennials, baby boomers and the Silent Generation; and independents as well as Democrats. Tax cuts drew plurality support only among Republicans (35 percent) and members of Generation X (33 percent).
Republicans (at 20 percent) were also more slightly likely to prioritize reducing foreign imports than were Democrats (17 percent) or independents (15 percent). And Republicans (at 17 percent) and independents (at 16 percent) were considerably more likely than Democrats (just 9 percent) to see reducing immigration as the best strategy for invigorating their local economy.
While investing in education was by far the top priority for African Americans, they were also more likely (at 12 percent) than Asian Americans (5 percent) or Hispanics (7 percent) to view reducing immigration as the best strategy. Whites were the most likely to pick that approach—but at 16 percent support, it still ranked as the least popular option among them, behind investing in education (35 percent), tax cuts (27 percent), and restricting imports (18 percent).
Atlantic researcher Leah Askarinam contributed.
The Atlantic Media/Pearson Opportunity poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International surveyed 1,276 adults living in the United States by landline and cell phone from February 10 through 25. The survey included oversamples of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error for the complete sample is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points; the margins of error are larger for subgroups.