WASHINGTON – Young Americans have education and the economy at the top of their minds as they think about this year's presidential election. But their thoughts on some of the other top issues facing the country — and which of those issues are most important to them — vary among young people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
That's according to a new GenForward poll of young adults ages 18-30. The poll is conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and is designed with a particular focus on the voices of young people of color.
Here are some things to know about what young people think about top issues facing the country:
Asked to choose from a list of 22 topics driving their choice of a political candidate this year, education emerges on top for young Americans, with 31 percent listing it among their top three issues. Education is the top issue for young whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans alike, though racism and immigration come close for young blacks and Hispanics, respectively.
The survey shows that reining in the cost of college is a major concern for young adults. Three-quarters support free college education, a major policy proposal supported by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination. Young black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans are especially likely to support free college education, and to support it strongly.
Nearly a quarter of young Americans put economic growth at the top of their list of important political issues this year, while 18 percent say income inequality is among their top issues. Most say they see the distribution of wealth in the U.S. as unfair.
Most support raising the federal minimum wage, but they prefer the incremental approach supported by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the larger increase that was supported by Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination. Forty-three percent say they want it raised to the $12 an hour proposed by Clinton, while 19 percent want it raised to the $15 proposed by Sanders. Another 7 percent want to go further, raising it to $20 an hour.
Nearly 8 in 10 young adults support raising taxes on people making more than $1 million a year.
The poll shows more young adults think free trade agreements have been good for the economy than bad, 46 percent to 20 percent. And most think free trade agreements have probably helped rather than hurt their own family's financial situation.
The survey shows that 6 in 10 young people think immigrants living in the United States illegally should be allowed to stay — but that feeling is not universal. That view is shared by 79 percent of young Hispanics, 75 percent of young Asian-Americans and 67 percent of young African-Americans, but just 48 percent of young whites.
Two major immigration proposals put forth by businessman Donald Trump in his bid for the White House are overwhelmingly rejected by young people. Seven in 10 say the United States should not build a wall along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration. Opposition is particularly strong among young Latinos and Asian-Americans. And 69 percent oppose a temporary ban on Muslims who are not U.S citizens entering the country.
Three in 10 young Hispanics say immigration is among their top issues in deciding who to support as the next president, nearly as many as say education is among their top three.
A majority of young adults say they support airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. But support varies dramatically by race and ethnicity, with young people of color far less likely than young whites to support military action. Sixty-three percent of whites age 30 and under say they support airstrikes. But only 44 percent of young Asians, 42 percent of Hispanics, and 39 percent of African-Americans say the same, with about a third of each group saying they're ambivalent.
Young adults are divided on ground troops in Iraq and Syria, 35 percent in favor to 38 percent opposed.
Two in 10 say terrorism and homeland security is among their top political issues this year, with young whites especially likely to say so. Overall, it tied with health care as the third most important political issue for young adults this year.
Americans age 18 to 30 are closely divided on whether it's more important to protect Americans' rights to own guns (48 percent) or to control gun ownership (52 percent). But there are significant differences depending on their racial and ethnic background.
An overwhelming majority of young Asian-Americans — 83 percent — say controlling gun ownership is more important, as do 58 percent of young African-Americans and 56 percent of young Hispanics. On the other hand, 55 percent of young whites say it's more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns. For young Asian-Americans, gun control is in their top five political issues this year.
The poll of 1,965 adults age 18-30 was conducted June 14-27 using a sample drawn from the probability-based GenForward panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The survey was paid for by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago using grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.
GenForward polls: http://www.genforwardsurvey.com/
Black Youth Project: http://blackyouthproject.com/
Follow Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/EL_Swan