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Affirmative action polls show deep racial gulf

George Curry | 6/30/2013, 1:31 a.m.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

(NNPA) – In the months leading up to this week’s Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, a public opinion poll by ABC News and The Washington Post showed that 76 percent of Americans oppose affirmative action in college admissions. However, a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 68 percent of Americans favor the principles behind affirmative action.

How do Americans really feel about affirmative action? The short answer is that it depends on how the question is asked.

The ABC/Washington Post question, asked June 5-9, was posed this way: “Overall, do you support or oppose allowing universities to consider applicants’ race as a factor in deciding which students to admit?”

Of those responding, 76 percent opposed, 22 percent voiced support, and 2 percent were undecided.

Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted a poll May 15-19, phrased its question differently: “In order to make up for past discrimination, do you favor or oppose programs which make special efforts to help Blacks and other minorities get ahead?”

More than two-thirds of the respondents – 68 percent – favored such efforts,

24 percent opposed, 6 percent were unsure and 2 percent provided other replies.

Note the wording of the questions. The ABC/Washington Post question provided no context for evaluating affirmative action admissions, only whether respondents support or oppose using race as a factor. On the other hand, the Public Religion Research Institute approach placed the issue within the context of “past discrimination” and using “special efforts” to help people of color get ahead.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted May 30-June 2, showed Americans evenly divided on the issue.

Respondents were asked to choose between two statements: A) Affirmative action programs are still needed to counteract the effects of discrimination against minorities, and are a good idea as long as there are no rigid quotas and B) Affirmative action programs have gone too far in favoring minorities, and should be ended because they unfairly discriminate against Whites.

In that poll, 45 percent of the respondents said affirmative action programs are still needed to counteract the effects of discrimination against people of color. But the same margin – 45 percent – said they feel the programs have gone too far and should be ended because they unfairly discriminate against Whites.

A closer examination of the numbers show a deep racial divide. For example, 71 percent of African Americans strongly believe affirmative action programs are still needed, compared to only 20 percent of Whites and 39 percent of Hispanics. Another 11 percent of Blacks feel affirmative action should continue, but did not feel as strongly about it. Among Hispanics, 29 percent were in that category and 14 percent of Whites.

When supporters – strong and not as strong – are added together, 82 percent of African Americans want to retain affirmative action, compared to 68 percent of Hispanics and 34 percent of Whites.

When you add the two categories of those wanting to abolish affirmative action, a majority of Whites – 56 percent – support such a move, compared to 7 percent of African Americans and 24 percent of Hispanics.