A poll released late last month sheds dramatic new light on Americans’ priorities for use of their country’s resources, and reveals contradictory views on poverty and race in the United States.

One of the survey’s most striking findings is that solid majorities of African Americans, Latinos and Asians, and nearly half of non-Latino whites, said the government’s share of rebuilding the Gulf Coast should be funded by “getting our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.” An overwhelming majority from all four groups agreed with the statement, “We need to stop spending so much money and resources in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can afford to take care of people in the United States.”

The survey, conducted by Bendixen & Associates for New California Media, studied the impact of Hurricane Katrina on four key national issues: eradication of poverty in the U.S., race relations and discrimination, environment and climate change, and government’s ability to deal with catastrophic events. It was conducted in mid-October among 1,035 adults — 258 whites, 268 Latinos, 259 African Americans and 250 Asians.

A majority of African Americans and strong pluralities among the other groups felt “eliminating poverty in our country” is more important than “fighting terrorism,” “bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan,” or rebuilding regions devastated by natural disasters. Over two-thirds in each group agreed that “life is a lot more difficult for poor people in the United States than I ever imagined.”

Polling firm head Sergio Bendixen told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I don’t remember poverty ever finishing as the No. 1 priority on any kind of list.” He added, “The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the images of poverty have clearly made a large impact on many Americans.”

But contrasting views emerged of New Orleans residents who took food and other items from stores during the first days of the hurricane. Most African Americans, and a plurality of Asians and Latinos said such people were trying to take care of their families while a majority of whites said they were looting.

When presented the statement, “Life is a lot more difficult for Blacks in the United States than I ever imagined,” African Americans strongly agreed. Asians and Latinos were evenly divided, while a majority of whites disagreed. Similarly, a majority of African Americans and Latinos agreed that “there is a lot more racism in the United States than I ever imagined,” while a majority of whites disagreed and Asians were evenly divided.

President Bush took a beating for his performance during the Katrina crisis, with 80 percent of African Americans, two-thirds of Asians and a majority of Latinos and whites saying he did a “poor” or “mediocre” job. FEMA officials, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin also came in for varying degrees of criticism.

Regarding climate change, two-thirds of African Americans and Asians, a majority of Latinos and a plurality of whites felt that global warming and weak environmental protection have brought an increase in the number and power of hurricanes.