In U.S., Most Reject Considering Race in College Admissions

Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup, July 24, 2013

Two-thirds of Americans believe college applicants should be admitted solely based on merit, even if that results in few minorities being admitted, while 28% believe an applicant’s racial and ethnic background should be taken into account to promote diversity on college campuses. Three-quarters of whites and 59% of Hispanics believe applicants should be judged only on merit, while blacks are divided in their views.

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The Supreme Court has heard cases that challenged affirmative action programs in college admissions in recent years. In 2003, it declared unconstitutional the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions process that automatically awarded minority applicants extra “points” in its admissions formula, but upheld the university’s law school admissions process that took race into account more generally when evaluating each individual applicant. This year, it vacated and remanded a lower-court ruling on a challenge to the University of Texas’ admissions program from a white applicant denied admission.

Gallup has asked about using race in college admissions decisions twice before, in 2003 just prior to the ruling in the University of Michigan case, and again in 2007. Americans’ opinions have been quite stable over the past 10 years.

Aside from blacks, a majority of all other major subgroups believe colleges should determine admissions solely on merit. {snip}

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Even though Americans largely reject the idea of using race as a factor in college admissions, they still support affirmative action programs more generally. A separate question in the poll finds 58% of Americans saying they favor “affirmative action programs for racial minorities,” including 51% of whites, 76% of blacks, and 69% of Hispanics.

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Americans may be less likely to support affirmative action in college admissions because the question raises a potential specific consequence of such programs–admitting some minority students who would otherwise not be admitted on their merits alone–which could in their minds outweigh the positive aspects of the policy mentioned in the question. The general question on affirmative action, asked prior to the question on college admissions, does not discuss any pros or cons of affirmative action, suggesting Americans mostly have a positive reaction to the concept or term.

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Americans support the government’s playing at least a minor role in trying to improve the social and economic position of blacks and other minority groups in the U.S., with 32% favoring a major government role and 44% a minor one. However, white Americans generally favor a minor government role, while most blacks and Hispanics prefer more significant government involvement.

The substantial racial differences have always been apparent in this question. But whites are now less likely to favor a major government role in assisting minorities than they were during the Bush administration. {snip}

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