Poll: Most oppose race-based college admissions programs

June 12, 2013

Americans overwhelmingly oppose race-based college admissions and support extending federal benefits to same-sex couples, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds broad public agreement on issues awaiting Supreme Court decisions this month.

Three quarters of Americans, 76 percent, oppose allowing universities to consider race when selecting students, the key element in affirmative-action programs in universities nationwide.

A decade ago, the high court approved racial considerations at the University of Michigan Law School but struck down an undergraduate admissions policy that awarded extra points to minority applicants. This year, the court is deciding whether the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy — which allows administrators to consider race in admitting about one-quarter of the freshman class — is constitutional.

Most Americans also agree on issues surrounding same-sex marriage as the court decides the fate of California's Proposition 8 measure banning such unions and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Fully 63 percent of Americans support extending federal benefits to gay couples who are legally married in states where they reside, a policy outlawed by DOMA, and 57 percent support legal same-sex marriage in general.

The wide opposition to affirmative action in college admissions spans partisan and racial divides. Nearly eight in 10 whites and African Americans and almost seven in 10 Hispanics oppose allowing universities to use race as a factor. And although Democrats are more supportive than Republicans of the practice, at least two-thirds of Democrats, Republicans and independents oppose it.

Public opposes affirmative action, supports same-sex marriage

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found support for broader affirmative action programs — not specifically in college admissions — at a historic low. About 45 percent said the programs are a good idea, while the same number said they have gone too far and now discriminate against whites, marking the first time in more than two decades that supporters did not outnumber opponents.

Unlike with the issue of race-based admissions, the Post-ABC survey finds that support for expanding federal benefits to gay spouses varies widely along partisan and generational lines, mirroring support for same-sex marriage itself. Fully 79 percent of people ages 18 to 29 say the federal government should give gay married couples the same benefits as other married couples, compared with 46 percent of those 65 and older. Just over four in 10 Republicans support expanding benefits to same-sex couples, compared with two-thirds of independents and about three-quarters of Democrats.

The Obama administration did not defend DOMA in court during March’s oral arguments, and a majority of justices asked skeptical questions about the law. Wide majorities in Congress supported the legislation, and President Bill Clinton signed it in 1996. But DOMA’s tenuous standing reflects a change in the nation’s attitudes about homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the past decade, during which majority opposition has flipped to majority support.

Clement is a pollster at Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Robert Barnes and Capital Insight pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

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