Most Americans Oppose Affirmative Action Policies, Poll Shows

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to uphold the consideration of race in college admissions by the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, a recent Gallup poll indicates that the majority of Americans disagree with the decision and oppose affirmative action policies in higher education.

Of the 3,270 American adults polled between June 29 and July 2, 65 percent said they disagree with the court’s decision to allow race-conscious admissions policies at UT. Only 31 percent of respondents supported the decision. Seven out of 10 respondents said colleges should admit students based solely on merit.

“Americans have been brought up to believe that it’s a bad thing to treat people differently because of their skin color or where their ancestors came from,” Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, told Inside Higher Ed. “None of this is surprising.”

What may be surprising is that African American and Latino respondents were more likely to oppose race as a criteria for admissions than not. While they were more in favor of the consideration of race than white respondents, 57 percent of African Americans and 47 percent of Latinos said race should not be a factor in admissions at all.

Opinions also varied by level of education. Respondents with some postgraduate experience were more likely to support the court’s decision (46 percent), compared to those with a college degree (35 percent) and a high-school-level education or lower (27 percent).

Instead, respondents were most in favor of considering high school grades and standardized test scores in admissions decisions. A student’s economic situation or first-generation status received modest support in the poll, and respondents ranked athletic ability and parents’ alumni status as major factors to be considered in admissions decisions — above race or ethnicity.

Michele Moses — associate dean for graduate studies and professor of education philosophy and policy at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education — believes many in the public misunderstand the use of affirmative action and the disparities in high school that impact how well students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds fare in classes and on standardized tests.

“I think higher education has a role [to play] in educating the public about these issues,” she told Inside Higher Ed.

“Part of the mission of institutions of higher education is broader than just educating and giving degrees to students,” she said. “There is a larger social purpose and social function. … Institutions have an obligation to educate a diverse group to be a nation’s professionals, office holders, and leaders. That makes a big difference to our society.”