NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Survey Finds Hidden Anger Toward Affirmative Action

October 13, 1997

Conventional wisdom says most political liberals and Democrats support affirmative action while most conservatives and Republicans oppose it. National surveys usually confirm the conventional view, say observers -- but they are wrong, according to recently published research by Paul Sniderman of Stanford University and Edward Carmines of Indiana University.

In a number of national surveys that included questions to determine the respondents' political affiliation and ideology, the researchers included questions that asked participants to say how many -- but not which -- of a list of items made them angry. Survey participants were then randomly divided into two groups.

For one group, the interviewers listed three items -- gas tax increases, corporate polluters and multimillion-dollar salaries for professional athletes; but the list given the other group included a fourth item -- affirmative action.

Thus any variation in responses between the two groups revealed the percentage upset by affirmative action. The political scientists found that:

  • A larger percentage of white liberals than conservatives were angered by affirmative action -- 57 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
  • About the same percentage of Democrats were angry as Republicans -- 65 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
  • And in another survey, when the researchers asked whites to agree or disagree with a series of negative statements about blacks, they found that asking a question about affirmative action first greatly increased agreement with the negative statements.
  • For instance, first asking about affirmative action increased agreement with a statement that "most blacks are irresponsible" from 26 percent to 43 percent. Sniderman and Carmines have published their research in a book, Reaching Beyond Race, from Harvard University Press.

Source: Richard Morin (Universal Press Syndicate), "Surveys Indicate Affirmative-Action Views Are Hidden," Dallas Morning News, October 13, 1997.


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