How Americans Feel About Affirmative Action In Higher Education

The Harvard trial wraps up on Friday. And for the past three weeks, the group Students for Fair Admissions has argued that the Ivy League school discriminates against Asian-American applicants.In a court filing, conservative advocates called Harvard’s race-sensitive admissions process “racially and ethnically discriminatory.” But the the school’s new president wrote that the process helps Harvard “achieve a diverse student body.”

Affirmative action has historically been the engine of diversity in higher education. But what do Americans think of affirmative action? It depends on how you ask the question.

Sixty percent of adult Americans surveyed by Gallup in 2016 said they generally favor affirmative action programs for racial minorities. But 70 percent said that they believe college applicants should be judged solely on merit and that racial and ethnic background should not be considered (even if doing so means that fewer minority students are admitted). The findings suggest that Americans broadly support the idea of affirmative action but oppose preferential treatment for minorities in college admissions.

It’s likely that conclusion hasn’t changed since 2016, said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. Gallup asked Americans about affirmative action in previous years and received similar replies each time, Newport said.