Public Split on Federal Role in Affirmative Action

Gallup's latest social audit of race relations in the United States finds that 4 in 10 Americans (40%) feel that the federal government should make every effort to improve the social and economic position of blacks and other minority groups, while nearly half (49%) hold the belief that the government should not make any special effort to help minorities.

Although the question is broader than the issue of affirmative action, the survey was conducted at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court was preparing to hear arguments over the fairness of the University of Michigan's affirmative action admission programs. In this same survey, Gallup specifically asked about affirmative action programs and found that a plurality of Americans feel affirmative action programs should be kept at their current levels -- and that fewer Americans today than in prior Gallup surveys feel that affirmative action programs should be decreased (see "Public Warming to Affirmative Action as Supreme Court Hears Michigan Case" in Related Items).

In the latest poll, conducted between Dec. 9, 2002, and Feb. 11, 2003, Gallup finds that a large gap divides white Americans and black Americans on what the government's role should be. Two-thirds of blacks (67%) but only 36% of whites -- a 31-percentage-point gap -- feel that the government should make every effort to help blacks and other minorities. Gallup finds blacks' and whites' opinions diverge markedly on questions about policy preferences and the government's role in addressing racial inequality. On the specific topic of affirmative action, a 36-percentage-point gap exists between blacks and whites on the question of whether such programs should be increased in the United States (58% among blacks compared with 22% among whites).

The new data also reveal that opinion has changed slightly in response to the government's role. More blacks today than in 1997, when the question was first asked, feel that the government should make every effort to help blacks and other minorities (67% vs. 59%). Among whites, opinion stands very nearly where it did in 1997.

Answers to this question are strongly related to political party affiliation and age, and more modestly to gender. More than half of Democrats (56%), but only 28% of Republicans, feel that the government should make every effort to help blacks and other minorities. Younger Americans are also more likely say they feel that way (59% of 18- to 24-year-olds hold this view, compared with only 24% of those 65 and older). Finally, women are more likely than men to feel that the government should do all it can to improve the social and economic position of minorities (44% versus 36%).

*Gallup conducted 1,044 telephone interviews from Dec. 9, 2002, through Feb. 11, 2003, with a randomly selected sample of adults in the continental United States. We interviewed roughly equal numbers of black and white respondents, permitting more reliable estimates of black opinion than would be possible in a standard national sample of a similar size. For our total sample of 1,044, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error for percentages is not greater than ±5%. The parallel margins of sampling error are ±6% for the sample of 505 white respondents, and ±6% for the sample of 501 black respondents.

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