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Improvement seen in US race relations

But majority of blacks says unfairness persists

NEW YORK -- A majority of Americans responding in a new poll said they supported affirmative action, believed race relations have improved since the civil rights movement, and approved of interracial marriage.

Still, 49 percent of blacks surveyed said they had experienced some form of discrimination in the month preceding the poll, and 62 percent said they believe they are treated somewhat or very unfairly.

"The good news is there is a sense of optimism in the respondents to the poll. There is a real sense that America has changed for the better," said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition that includes AARP and unions.

However, Henderson said, the poll also indicated "there is a gulf, not only in perception, but in reality" when it comes to differing views on discrimination.

The Gallup Organization poll was released to coincide with next month's 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

In the poll of adults 18 and older, nearly 90 percent of whites, 73 percent of blacks, and 78 percent of Hispanics surveyed said civil rights had somewhat or greatly improved. Seventy-five percent of whites, 69 percent of blacks, and 68 percent of Hispanics said civil rights for Hispanics had somewhat or greatly improved.

The respondents expressed more comfort than in past polls with the idea of different races living together: 78 percent of blacks, 61 percent of Hispanics, and 57 percent of whites said they prefer to live in a mixed neighborhood.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents supported affirmative action, a finding that Henderson called a pleasant surprise. "Americans in a general manner accept the equitable principle that, for every wrong, there is a remedy," he said.

Sixty-three percent said race "will always be a problem in the US."

According to Census Bureau projections, whites, now about 69 percent of the population, will drop to 50.1 percent by 2050. More than one-quarter of those surveyed said that will be a good thing; 56 percent said it will not matter, and 13 percent said it will be a bad thing.

Among other findings:

* 73 percent of respondents approved of interracial marriage. In a 1958 Gallup poll, when the question was posed only to whites, just 4 percent supported mixed marriages.

* 21 percent of whites surveyed said they have been a victim of reverse discrimination.

* 56 percent of whites, 38 percent of Hispanics, and 21 percent of blacks surveyed said all or most of the civil rights movement's goals had been achieved.

The telephone survey of 2,002 people, conducted between Nov. 11 and Dec. 14, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points.

The pollsters did not interview enough Asian Americans to draw any statistically valid conclusions about their attitudes.

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