A QUESTION OF QUOTAS

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In general, using terms such as “affirmative action,� “equal� and “opportunity� in survey questions yields more support for affirmative action policies, while the use of “special preferences,� “preferential treatment� and “quotas� tends to lessen approval ratings. In addition, including “women� along with “minorities� tends to increase support.

A 1997 CBS News/New York Times survey highlights how differently phrased questions yield different responses. For example, when asked, “Do you favor or oppose programs which give preferential treatment to racial minorities?� 21 percent of white Americans said they were in favor (compared with 51 percent of black respondents). But when asked, “Do you favor or oppose programs which impose quotas for racial minorities?� only 15 percent of whites were in favor (versus 48 percent of blacks). The words “quota� and “impose� lowered approval rates. Yet when whites were asked, “What do you think should happen to affirmative action programs?� 80 percent said they should continue as is or be phased out over time until they are no longer necessary. Only 13 percent of whites opposing affirmative action on principle said that such practices should end now. (By contrast, no blacks said such programs should end at this time.)

Similarly, in an August 1995 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 58 percent of Americans approved of “affirmative action programs designed to help [American Demographics' emphasis] blacks, women and other minorities get better jobs and education.� Only 46 percent approved of “affirmative action programs which give special preferences [American Demographics' emphasis] to qualified blacks, women and other minorities in hiring and education.�

MOVING ON UP?

The gap between blacks' and whites' opinions on whether white people will be denied a job or promotion due to affirmative action has narrowed during the past 10 years.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CHANCES ARE THESE DAYS THAT A WHITE PERSON WON'T GET A JOB OR PROMOTION, WHILE AN EQUALLY OR LESS QUALIFIED BLACK PERSON GETS ONE INSTEAD?

1990 VERY LIKELY SOMEWHAT LIKELY NOT VERY LIKELY
Whites 28% 42% 30%
Blacks 8% 24% 68%
2000 VERY LIKELY SOMEWHAT LIKELY NOT VERY LIKELY
Whites 21% 48% 31%
Blacks 14% 30% 56%
Source: National Opinion Research Center
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