Poll Finds Most Americans Oppose Affirmative Action When Defined as 'Preferences'

June 03, 2009

A new poll of American voters has found that 55 percent favor the abolition of “affirmative-action programs that give preferences to blacks and other minorities in hiring, promotions, and college admissions.”

In breaking down its survey’s results by race, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that most white voters oppose such preferences, most black voters support them, and Hispanic voters are split on them — even when specifically asked about preferences that have Hispanics as their intended beneficiaries. The only segment of the population that a majority of all respondents wanted to see given preferences are people with disabilities.

“The American public seems to have gotten to the point where it believes the statute of limitations has run out on the wrongs that led to affirmative action, and it wants these programs ended,” Peter A. Brown, the polling institute’s assistant director, said in a Wall Street Journal blog posting discussing the poll’s results.

The results of such polls on affirmative action are often hotly debated, however, because their findings can be skewed by the wording of questions and the order in which questions are asked.

After asking voters whether they favor the continuation or the abolition of “affirmative-action programs that give preferences to blacks and other minorities,” the Quinnipiac poll asked whether they believe affirmative-action programs “disadvantage members of other groups” and also posed the question: “Which do you think is the best term to describe these programs — affirmative action or preferences?” The Quinnipiac institute posed various questions on voters’ views of preferences for specific racial or ethnic groups after asking: “If affirmative-action programs giving preference to blacks and other minorities do result in less opportunities for whites, do you think that’s a price worth paying to help blacks and other minorities, or not?” —Peter Schmidt