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Although designed as a helping hand to qualified minorities who might otherwise be passed over for a job or college admission, affirmative action is seen as necessary by 61 percent of Americans today. But it's not just whites who think so: more than half (56 percent) of Hispanics also say that affirmative action is not needed to provide equal opportunity to all Americans.

In the first installment of an ongoing series of exclusive polls examining the issues of race and ethnicity, this month's survey looks at attitudes toward affirmative action. The survey, conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive for American Demographics, polled 2,000 adults via the Internet from Feb. 21-27. To ensure that the survey represents the attitudes of the nation as a whole, the responses of the online sample were weighted based on the respondents' propensity to be online and their demographics, such as age, race and sex.

The survey found that the majority of whites and Hispanics oppose affirmative action on multiple grounds. Specifically, 77 percent of whites and 64 percent of Hispanics say they are against affirmative action because they believe it dictates racial quotas rather than allows a free market system to operate. And even more whites (80 percent) and Hispanics (71 percent) contest affirmative action, because they say it gives special preference to some people over other equally qualified individuals.

African Americans, however, have a different outlook. Fully 84 percent of blacks believe that affirmative action is still necessary to assure equal opportunity for all. Only 17 percent of blacks agree that affirmative action gives minorities special preference over equally qualified individuals, and just 19 percent believe that affirmative action hinders the free market system by imposing racial quotas.

Should the fact that Hispanics overwhelmingly agree with whites on the issue of affirmative action come as a surprise? Not really, says Felipe Korzenny, principal and cofounder of Redwood Shores, Calif.-based multicultural market research firm Cheskin. Because our survey, like most national surveys, was conducted in English, Korzenny points out that some Hispanic voices were not heard. “I would imagine that Hispanics who are more reliant on the Spanish language — those typically employed in less prestigious, more service-related occupations — would be more likely to state that they need more opportunities to get ahead and compete in the United States,� says Korzenny.

However, even if the survey were conducted in Spanish, Korzenny believes Hispanics would still likely to side with whites on this issue. “Hispanics are quite egalitarian. They don't want special treatment,� he says. “Many feel a sense of responsibility to compete in the society into which they've come of their own free choice. They don't feel the society owes them much.�

Regardless of skin tone and ethnicity, Americans in their 30s and 40s are the most likely to believe that affirmative action is still necessary to protect equal rights (41 percent and 43 percent, respectively). Surprisingly, young bucks ages 18 t 24 and senior citizens ages 65 and older are the least supportive of its continued use (35 percent and 29 percent, respectively). Unlikely bed partners, yes. But probably for the same reasons, not likely. While many older Americans, the most homogeneously white generation, never accepted the use of affirmative action. Perhaps many young adults, the most racially and culturally diverse, believe affirmative action has accomplished its intended goal.


“I oppose affirmative action because it gives special preferences to some people over other, equally qualified individuals.�

Men 78%
Women 72%
High school 78%
College 70%
Postgraduate 62%
18 to 24 73%
25 to 29 73%
30 to 39 69%
40 to 49 77%
50 to 64 79%
65 and older 81%
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive


“Affirmative action is necessary to provide equal opportunity for everyone.�

Men 30%
Women 48%
High school 43%
College 34%
Postgraduate 44%
18 to 24 35%
25 to 29 37%
30 to 39 41%
40 to 49 43%
50 to 64 38%
65 and older 29%
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive


“I oppose affirmative action because it dictates racial quotas instead of allowing a free market system to operate.�

Men 76%
Women 69%
High school 75%
College 68%
Postgraduate 57%
18 to 24 69%
25 to 29 74%
30 to 39 68%
40 to 49 76%
50 to 64 74%
65 and older 78%
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive
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