Poll: Majority of Americans Disapprove of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear oral arguments in a pair of landmark affirmative-action cases this fall, a majority of Americans say they disapprove of racial preferences and still favor a meritocratic system in college admissions.

An 85 Fund poll conducted by CRC Research found that 59 percent of respondents disapprove of colleges and universities considering a prospective student’s race or ethnicity when making admissions decisions. Only 29 percent approve, and 12 percent are unsure. Respondents were selected randomly from opt-in panel participants for the September 14–18 polling.

Most Americans, 58 percent, still want colleges and universities to judge applications based on credentials, test scores, and other qualifications rather than racial identification, even if it means that fewer minority students are represented in the student body.

One of the affirmative-action cases on the Supreme Court docket, Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, involves a complaint against Harvard for its alleged discrimination against Asian candidates, who typically submit statistically very high test scores and academic records. The plaintiffs have asked the justices to ban the consideration of race in college admissions, arguing that it disadvantages Asian applicants and violates federal law. Recently confirmed justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the case due to her past role on the school’s board of overseers.

Asked to speak to the Harvard situation specifically, 72 percent of conservatives, 58 percent of moderates, and 47 percent of liberals oppose the school’s consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions, the poll shows. Harvard acknowledged in its brief that if it “abandoned consideration of race as one among many factors, representation of African-American and Hispanic students would significantly decline.” It also said that the “lower courts found Harvard uses race . . . only ‘as a plus factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant,'” seemingly conceding that race can elevate an application of certain individuals but not others.

Rather than use racial quotas or attempt to achieve a class of a certain racial composition, Harvard “includes race among other characteristics on one-pagers for the permissible purposes of guarding against inadvertent drop-offs in representation of minority applicants,” the school has asserted.

Overall, 54 percent of Americans are concerned about the fact that “Asian applicants as a whole have higher test scores but lower rates of admission at Harvard University.” On that question, Americans who fall into the three major ideological political categories are in agreement that Harvard’s conduct is troubling, including 53 percent of conservatives, 53 percent of moderates, and 58 percent of liberals.

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