updated 4/8/2004 10:11:09 PM ET 2004-04-09T02:11:09

A majority of Americans support affirmative action, believe race relations have improved since the civil rights movement and approve of interracial marriage, according to a new poll.

Still, 49 percent of blacks said they had experienced some form of discrimination in the month preceding the poll and 62 percent 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, unions and religious organizations.

'A gulf'
However, Henderson said, the poll also “shows there is a gulf, not only in perception, but in reality” when it comes to differing views on discrimination.

The Gallup Organization poll, commissioned by the AARP and the LCCR, was released to coincide with next month’s 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional. It will appear Friday in the May-June issue of AARP The Magazine.

Gallup said it is the organization’s most comprehensive survey on race relations.

In the poll of adults 18 and older, nearly 90 percent of whites, 73 percent of blacks and 78 percent of Hispanics said civil rights for blacks 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.

Americans of different races are increasingly comfortable 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 Americans support 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.

'Always be a problem'
Sixty-three percent, however, said that “race relations will always be a problem in the U.S.”

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

Tyrone Miller, a 47-year-old black man from the Bronx, suggested that behavior has changed, but some attitudes have not.

“Minorities are pulling the American economy, so if you really want to make money and get ahead, it’s not profitable to be racist,” said Miller, a security manager. “But that doesn’t mean you’ll be invited to that person’s home.”

Among other findings:

  • 73 percent of Americans approve 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 said they have been a victim of reverse discrimination.
  • 56 percent of whites, 38 percent of Hispanics and 21 percent of blacks 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.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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