Americans divided on whether Supreme Court should consider public opinion in decisions
WASHINGTON – More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans support programs which give special consideration to blacks and other minorities in order to make up for past discrimination, a new survey finds, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of such programs.
The new survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, also finds that despite their strong support for affirmative action programs generally, few support this principle in the realm of college admissions. Only 29 percent of Americans believe that blacks and other minorities should receive preference in college admissions to make up for past inequalities, while sixty-four percent are opposed.
“Americans draw a distinction between the general principle of affirmative action, which they support, and race-based preferences in the arena of college admissions, which they oppose,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Even among those who support affirmative action programs generally, nearly 6-in-10 oppose affirmative action programs in college admissions.”
Despite their opposition to affirmative action in college admissions, few Americans believe they have been affected – positively or negatively – in the admissions process due to their race or ethnicity. Six percent of Americans believe they were helped, while seven percent say they were hurt, the survey finds. The vast majority of Americans (80 percent) say that their race or ethnicity made no difference.
The survey finds that Americans are also unlikely to think that their careers have been impacted by their race or ethnicity. While 80 percent say their race has not made a difference, seven percent believe they were helped because of their race, and 11 percent say their race hurt them.
“Opposition to affirmative action is strong in college admissions despite its minimal perceived impact,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Fewer than 1-in-10 whites with at least some college education report being hurt in their admission prospects due to their race or ethnicity.”
As the Supreme Court heads into its final month of the current session, the survey finds that Americans are divided over whether the Court should take public opinion into account in their decisions. Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) say the justices should consider only legal issues when deciding an important constitutional case, while 45 percent believe they should also consider public opinion on that subject.
The survey finds, however, that Americans generally agree that the Supreme Court does not operate above the political fray. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans say that the justices are influenced (55 percent say a lot, while 32 percent say a little) by their own political views when making decisions. Only eight percent say the justices keep their own political views out of their decisions.
Among the findings:
Americans strongly support the principles behind affirmative action policies aimed at helping racial and ethnic minorities.
- There is a large partisan gap in support for affirmative action. Eighty-five percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents favor affirmative action programs, compared to only a slim majority (51 percent) of Republicans.
- Majorities of all religious groups, including 80 percent of minority Protestants, 71 percent of Catholics, 66 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 65 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants, favor programs which make special efforts to help blacks and other minorities get ahead in order to make up for past discrimination.
- There is significant support for affirmative action programs across racial lines: 88 percent of Hispanic Americans, 81 percent of black Americans, and 61 percent of white Americans favor such programs.
- Young adults (age 18-29) are more likely than seniors (age 65 and older) to support affirmative action programs (75 percent vs. 63 percent).
Despite this strong support for the general principle of affirmative action, few Americans support preferences based on race or ethnicity in college admissions.
- Even among those who support affirmative action programs generally, only 38 percent support preferences based on race or ethnicity in college admissions, and nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) are opposed.
- Eight-in-ten (80 percent) Republicans, two-thirds (67 percent) of independents, and a majority (53 percent) of Democrats oppose racial preferences in college admissions.
- The race gap is much larger on this question. A majority of black Americans (57 percent) and nearly half of Hispanic Americans (45 percent) favor racial preferences in college admissions, compared to only 21 percent of white Americans.
Few Americans perceive that they have been affected either positively or negatively in the college admission process due to their race or ethnicity.
- Black Americans, who are, overall, the strongest supporters of affirmative action in college admissions, do not believe their race has played much a role in their own admission process. Only 16 percent say they were helped because of their race, while 8 percent say they were hurt. Hispanic Americans are about as likely to report that their ethnicity was an advantage (11 percent) as they are to say it was a disadvantage (7 percent).
- Few (6 percent) white Americans, who overwhelmingly oppose affirmative action in college admissions, perceive that their race hurt their chances of being admitted to college.
Most Americans are also unlikely to believe that their careers have been impacted either negatively or positively due to their race or ethnicity.
- Black Americans (20 percent) and Hispanic Americans (17 percent) are more than twice as likely as white Americans (7 percent) to report that their race or ethnicity negatively affected their careers.
Americans are divided over whether the Supreme Court should take public opinion into account when making decisions.
- Republicans (57 percent) are significantly more likely than Democrats (43 percent) and independents (45 percent) to say that the Court should consider only legal issues. Nearly half of Democrats (49 percent) and independents (46 percent) believe the Court should take public opinion into account, compared to only 39 percent of Republicans.
- Young adults (62 percent) are significantly more likely than seniors (38 percent) to say that the Court should consider public opinion when rendering decisions.
- College graduates (64 percent) are significantly more likely than Americans without any college education (36 percent) to say that the Court should consider only legal issues.
Fewer Americans believe that Supreme Court justices are influenced a lot by their religious beliefs. Less than 4-in-10 (37 percent) Americans say that Supreme Court justices are influenced a lot by their religious beliefs, 44 percent say they are influenced a little, and 15 percent say they are not influence at all.
- Religiously unaffiliated Americans (44 percent) and Catholics (39 percent) are more likely than white mainline Protestants (27 percent) to say that Supreme Court justices are influenced a lot by their religious beliefs. Among white evangelical Protestants, roughly one-third (34 percent) report that Supreme Court justices are influenced by their religious beliefs.
The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between May 15, 2013 and May 19, 2013 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,000 adults 18 years of age or older in the entire United States (400 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.1 percentage points.