The U.S. public continues to believe that ability, as determined by examination, and not preferential treatment, to correct past discrimination, in selecting applicants for jobs or students for college admission.

An overwhelming proportion of the Public - eight in 10 - oppose preferential treatment. Even nonwhites and women, who have most to gain by affirmative action, vote for making ability, as determined by tests, the main consideration in filling places in industry and college.

At the same time, however, a majority of American, 53 per cent, would favor preferential treatment in the form of a federal government program offering free educational or vocational courses that would enable members of minority groups to do better in tests.

The issue of "affirmative action" - described by its critics as reverse discrimination - is now before the Supreme Court. The issue came before the court as a result of Allan Bakke's assertion that he was denied admission to the University of California medical school at Davis because he is white. The issue before the court is whether universities may constitutionally give preference to minorities to make up for past discrimination.

Most in favor of offering free courses to help minorities compete for educational and occupational opportunities are women, no whites, persons with a college background and younger adults (18-19 years old). Even among those opposed to preferential treatment, opinion is 5-to-4 in favor of free courses being provided.

Here's how respondents felt on the questions, should women and minorities be given preferential treatment in jobs, education?

Here's how respondents felt on the question, should women and minorities be given preferential treatment in jobs, education?

he results reported today are based on interviews with 1,517 adults, 18 and older, conducted in more than 300 scientifically selected localities during the period Oct. 21-24.