Do Americans Love Affirmative Action?

Do Americans Love Affirmative Action?

In honor of today's Supreme Court decision (see my summary here), Pew has a new poll claiming they do. But look closely at the question they asked:

The problem is that, because of its odd history, the term "affirmative action" has a fuzzy definition in many Americans' minds. It began with John F. Kennedy's executive order instructing contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." Times have changed, however, and people who follow the issue today see the term as synonymous with racial preferences -- typically, choosing black and Hispanic applicants over equally or better qualified whites and Asians. But vestiges of the old definition remain, for example in commercials that tout an "equal opportunity, affirmative action employer."

The Michigan ballot initiative at the heart of the Supreme Court case banned racial preferences -- using language not all that different from JFK's -- but Pew's question could be interpreted either way. What happens when you make the distinction clear? Let's ask, well, Pew:

The public has generally been supportive of [efforts to help nonwhites], but is decidedly opposed to the idea of providing preferential treatment to minorities.

Here are the results of a different poll question:

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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