Berkley Center for Religion

A Supreme Court decision on whether universities can use race as an admissions factor is expected by June, however the court of public opinion has already weighed in on the matter – and Americans of all stripes stand largely against affirmative action, according to a variety of recent polls.

In those surveys, at least half if not more of those polled voiced opposition to race-based preferences.

Take a Rasmussen national telephone survey, which found only 24 percent of likely voters were in favor of using race as a factor in college admissions, while 55 percent stood opposed, and the rest were undecided. That survey was conducted 11 months ago.

More recently, a survey released in October found that 57 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 – so-called young millennials – are opposed to racial preferences in college admissions or hiring decisions. In other words, nearly six out of every 10 opposed the practice.

“Although most younger millennials are firmly opposed to affirmative action programs in college admissions, relatively few report that they were hurt in the college admissions process because of their race or gender,” states a report on the results of the survey, conducted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Public Religion Research Institute.

Results also indicated 47 percent of those in that age group “oppose programs that make special efforts to help blacks and other minorities to get ahead because of past discrimination.”

What’s more, the survey found “support for affirmative action programs diminishes considerably when younger millennials are asked specifically about affirmative action for college admission.”

The same month that survey was released, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Fisher v. the University of Texas, which deals with race-conscious college admissions in America’s public universities.

Most of academia has expressed support for the University of Texas, which aims to continue its practice of using race as a preferential factor in admissions decisions. Administrators and faculty at elite schools have also chimed in, defending the notion of “diversity” in the classroom. All members of the Ivy League, the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, and other big-name schools, have filed amicus briefs on University of Texas’ behalf.

Yet the higher education community’s overwhelming support for racial preferences is not mirrored by the general public.

This month, the American Enterprise Institute released a political report that compiled public opinion on a variety of issues, including affirmative action. In its publication, the organization cited data from a 2010 survey by the National Opinion Research Center which found that a vast majority of Americans – 81 percent – oppose affirmative action policies that favor African Americans.

What’s more, only between 44 and 62 percent of blacks polled voiced support for various minority preferences, the poll found. AEI’s public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman notes, in an interview with The College Fix, that results on such a sensitive topic are always swayed by how pollsters’ frame the question.

Nevertheless, she points to perhaps the most consistent of all affirmative action data available, an annual survey by the UCLA-based Higher Education Research Institute. The poll has found that, since 1995 and every year since, roughly 50 percent of college freshmen believe race-based university admissions preferences should be abolished.

“You could balance a glass of water on that line it’s so flat,” Bowman says.

Fix contributor Danielle Charette is a student at Swarthmore College.

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