How do you experience America? Is it safe to take a walk in your neighborhood? Can you access social services in times of need? Do you feel your reproductive health is supported by federal policy? It all depends on your American identity, researchers say. 

A recent survey by the American Communities Project  (ACP) — an initiative housed at the Michigan State University School of Journalism — found that perspectives on the United States and its major health and socioeconomic issues vary across race, location, and community type. 

The survey, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, collected responses from nearly 5,100 Americans ages 18 and over. Each participant lived in one of ACP’s 15 community types — including the African American South, Native American lands, Hispanic centers, rural middle America, college towns, and Evangelical hubs.

Crime and Gun Violence

When polled about inflation, crime and guns, drugs and opioids, homelessness, immigration, and taxes, each community expressed different views on which issues are most important locally. 

Compared to 23% of Hispanic centers, 17% of exurbs, and 11% of rural middle America, 43% of Black Southerners ranked crime and gun violence as a top concern.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Black people experience 12 times more gun homicides, 18 times more gun assault injuries, and nearly three times more fatal shootings by police than white people. 

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Dante Chinni, the founder and director of the ACP, says the variation in the survey data makes a few points clear. 

“People who live in different communities actually live in different realities framed by different economies, different populations, and different beliefs about what the country is and where it is going,” he said in a statement. 

Despite differences on a local level, each community agreed that crime and guns are priority issues for the country as a whole.

Abortion and Social Services

All the communities shared similar views on abortion. From Big Cities to Evangelical Hubs, 50% or more agreed with the statement: “Obtaining an abortion should be a decision made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, without the government’s involvement.”

“The differences in the 15 community types in the ACP extend into economics, demographics, cultural traditions, and faiths. That’s why the survey results on the statement about abortion come as something of a surprise,” the researchers wrote.

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On the contrary, the survey data revealed strong disagreement about the belief that the “U.S. government should cut social programs in order to lower taxes” — a strategy that has historically disadvantaged Black and low-income families. 

In seven of the communities, less than 30% say they support the idea of cutting social services — including the African American South at 27%, military posts at 26%, and big cities and Native American lands at 24%. 

Overall, 29% of Americans said they favor the idea.

Carolyn Miller, senior program officer at the RWJF, says areas of similar belief among the survey respondents offer a chance to “build a country where everyone has an equal and just opportunity to thrive.”

“Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to live their healthiest lives possible, but deep divisions in our country, caused and compounded by persistent systemic discrimination, continue to pose significant barriers to positive change in our communities,” she said in a statement.

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