Though a racially-charged political scuffle stalled legislative efforts this spring to repeal a ban on the consideration of race in college admissions, Californian voters overwhelmingly support the use of affirmative action, according to a new Field Poll.
The poll, conducted in collaboration with the National Asian American Survey, found that almost 66 percent of voters support programs designed to help minorities and women get better education and job opportunities, compared to 25 percent who oppose them. That support extends across all major racial groups, including Asian Americans, whose vocal opposition to race-conscious admissions sunk the legislative proposal.
“One thing we should all be careful of is mistaking the loudest voices in the room for broader opinion,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside who helped analyze the poll results.
While Asian American activists successfully mobilized opposition to the affirmative action bill through Asian-language media, Ramakrishnan said, it was full of misinformation, including suggestions that there would be a cap on Asian enrollment in the desirable University of California system, where Asian-American students are highly overrepresented.
In fact, the proposal would have put a ballot measure before voters asking if they wanted to repeal part of Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that banned the use of race or gender preferences in public education, hiring and contracting.
The poll found that 69 percent of Asian American voters favor affirmative action, including 73 percent of Vietnamese, 60 percent of Chinese and 47 percent of Korean subgroups.
There is a perception that Asian Americans are much less supportive of social welfare programs than polling has shown, Ramakrishnan said, but anxiety over race-conscious admissions is often driven by students applying to college and their parents.
Support for affirmative action among Latino and black voters is above 80 percent, while 57 percent of white voters now favor these programs – huge growth from 1996, Ramakrishnan noted, when 63 percent votes to pass Proposition 209.
“Does this mean if something is put in front of voters” to repeal the affirmative action ban, “they would approve it?,” he asked. “That all probably depends on the language of the proposition.”
Here are the publicly released results of the poll.