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Should race play a role in college admissions? Most say ‘No’ according to poll

By Lee Cleveland - June 22, 2023

Perceptions of discrimination and affirmative action in the United States are complex and evoke diverse viewpoints across partisan and racial lines.

While many Americans believe that discrimination persists to some degree, opinions differ when it comes to affirmative action policies, particularly regarding college admissions.

The Landscape of Discrimination Perception

A significant portion of the American public acknowledges the existence of discrimination against various racial and ethnic groups in the country today. This sentiment is shared by a majority of Americans, including Black, Hispanic, and Asian individuals. However, it is essential to note that the degree to which individuals perceive discrimination varies.

Affirmative Action: General Support and College Admissions

Affirmative action as a general policy garners a narrow majority of support among Americans. Those who believe that discrimination is prevalent in society tend to favor affirmative action in principle. However, when it comes to the specific mechanism of considering race in college admissions, the opinions of Americans lean toward a substantial majority against such practices according to a recent CBS News / YouGov poll.

Partisan and Racial Differences

While partisan differences exist, they are not overwhelmingly pronounced in the context of college admissions.

Republicans generally oppose the use of race in admissions, with more than half of Democrats and three in four independents sharing this view.

Interestingly, although Black Americans are relatively more inclined to support colleges considering race, even among this group, opinions are evenly divided.

Additionally, individuals with college degrees tend to be slightly more supportive of considering race in admissions compared to those without degrees.

Long-Standing Support for Affirmative Action

The proportion of Americans expressing support for affirmative action programs remains consistent over the past 25 years, as indicated by polling data. Despite ongoing debates and shifting political landscapes, public sentiment regarding the necessity of affirmative action has remained relatively steady.

Recognition of Discrimination Against White Americans

Nearly half of Americans acknowledge at least some discrimination against White people, with a majority of White Americans sharing this perception. Conservatives and Republicans are particularly inclined to hold this view. Among those who believe in discrimination against White people, there is a prevailing opposition to both affirmative action policies and the consideration of race in college admissions.

Racism as a Continuing Problem

The majority of Americans recognize that racism remains a problem in contemporary society.

Additionally, an overwhelming three-quarters of the population believe that racism has been a major issue throughout the nation’s history.

But, Most Don’t Get It

For the sake of arguing, let’s forget about racism, discrimination, and affirmative action. Even without all of that, many – if not most – colleges prefer the use of quotas to enhance diversity.

A diverse student body is often a major selling point for learning institutions. They realize diversity can, and most often will, enhance a student’s college experience. After all, everything you learn in college isn’t in the classroom.

So in the end, admissions are very subjective. It’s hard to prove discrimination if 1) all of your candidates are worthy of the accepting institution and 2) no race/gender/ethnicity is being left out.

It’s understandable why universities like Harvard want a student body that remotely bears at least some resemblance to the U.S. population. After all, most students would rather not attend a college where everyone looks and thinks like them.


Public sentiment surrounding discrimination, affirmative action, and race-conscious college admissions is multi-faceted and influenced by a range of factors. While a significant proportion of Americans acknowledge discrimination against various racial and ethnic groups, opinions on affirmative action policies diverge, particularly when it comes to the consideration of race in college admissions.

The complex landscape of these issues highlights the ongoing need for thoughtful discourse and policy considerations to address disparities and promote equity in higher education and society at large.