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George W. Bush's experience with the black vote notwithstanding, African-Americans can be a pretty conservative bunch.

It's been asserted before. But a new national survey from Utica polling firm Zogby International puts numbers on the suspicion.

Even on hot-button issues like the interplay between race and economic opportunity, the poll shows African-Americans well within the American mainstream, not swimming out in some radical side current.

That's a point worth noting -- over and over -- when considering proposals like the bid to make sure blacks get a fair share of projects like the nearly $1 billion in school renovation work Buffalo is undertaking.

The Common Council's Minority Business Enterprise Committee is recommending that 25 percent of that work go to minority businesses and 5 percent to women-owned firms. It also proposes that 23 percent of the workers on the projects be minorities and that 7 percent be female.

The proposal is sure to spark a spirited debate, to say the least. Yet without that kind of public pressure, it might not happen.

But with that kind of public pressure, there's always the risk of a backlash against the notion that "those people" are always angling for a free ride.

And that's where the Zogby data come in handy. They're a filter through which to view efforts like this one to make sure the school construction dollars get dispensed fairly.

If more whites knew how conservative most blacks are in many ways, it could go a long way toward dissipating some of the suspicion and mistrust that arises whenever blacks talk about glass ceilings, barred doors and how to compensate for them.

Resentment tends to dissolve a bit when you realize that the object of your hostility holds the same values, aspirations and work ethic that you do.

Somehow, that point has been obscured in the searing rhetoric over how to divide the pie and how to divide the votes. Overlooked is the fact that African-Americans just want a chance to contribute, to build something and to see their children do better than they did.

Even in the context of playing catch-up in a race that started without them, blacks aren't looking for a handout, just a fair chance to run with everyone else.

It's a point underscored when Zogby asked 941 African-Americans if they "support or oppose racial preferences in hiring or college admissions."

In a poll with a margin of error of 3.2 percent, a solid majority of 65 percent said they oppose preferences, with younger blacks expressing the greatest opposition.

While different polls with different wording -- substituting "affirmative action" for "racial preferences," for instance -- can draw different responses, this one makes clear that despite their knowledge of history, African-Americans just want an equitable shot at the dream.

The response is particularly interesting in light of the fact that 72 percent of blacks also told Zogby that they have personally experienced discrimination. Despite embittering encounters that most Americans never have to endure, they just want what everyone else wants.

But preferences isn't the only area in which the poll shows blacks are just your average Americans. Solid majorities also "strongly support" or "somewhat support" the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes -- just like whites. And a big majority would treat 14- to 16-year-olds as adults when they use a gun in a violent crime.

They also favor allowing individuals to invest some of their Social Security money in private accounts -- a Republican priority -- and support giving parents vouchers so their kids can attend "any school they choose."

On some of these issues, it just proves that blacks can be as misguided as whites. But the point here is the similarity -- not the wisdom -- of the beliefs. In fact, if you didn't know it was a poll of African-Americans, you might think Zogby had been gauging sentiments in Ozzie and Harriet's middle America.

The Zogby poll should prompt critics of initiatives like the Common Council committee's to stop and think: If people just like me in so many ways feel that strongly about inclusion, what am I missing?

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